EAST LONDON – Led by husband and wife Andy and Nix Birkett, the Eastern Cape Canoe Union and the Border Canoe Club in particular made a clean sweep of the doubles race and SA Championships at the Biogen Pete Marlin Surfski Race on Sunday.
Andy and young partner Matt Fenn were just too strong for their opposition and powered to the men’s title in flat conditions on Sunday, while Nix and Jade Wilson emerged as the champions in the women’s race.
While the Springboks were taking over central East London to celebrate their World Cup win, the Border Canoe Club foursome were dominating on the nearby Yellow Sands Beach and celebrating a remarkable day of racing for the host club.
After a bit of confusion with the beach start at Nahoon, Birkett and Fenn had to fight back from a slow start, but managed to make contact with the leading group fairly quickly and were then able to make the decisive break about halfway on the route to the finish at Yellow Sands.
“I took a while to get going and was slow to jump in the boat at the start, so we lost a bit of time there,” said Birkett after his win. “There was a bit of confusion at the start. There were so many boats they took up so much of the beach, and we were on the far left so we weren’t really sure whether we were meant to be in the boat or not supposed to be in the boat.
“But it worked out. I mean, all the crews were together after a couple of hundred metres.
“Near Gonubie we saw a clash between two of the boats who we were racing and I saw we had two boat lengths on them, so I said to Matt: ‘We’ve got a little gap’.
“After that we just pinned it from there to the end,” added Birkett with a huge smile.
The Eastern cape pair were followed home by the Eastern Cape / KZN crew of Joshua Fenn and Bevan Mason. Who only just edged out Uli Hart (Western Cape) and Hamish Lovemore (KZN).
“Yeah, we are very happy,” said Matt Fenn after earning his first South African senior title. “Nice to win it on our own stomping grounds. I think it has been a while since an Eastern Cape crew has won.”
Despite having chatted briefly to her husband after finishing, Andy had not told his wife that they had both just won South African Championship titles.
“I’m not sure about the guys’ results and how Andy did,” was the confused reply from Nix Birkett when asked if she was happy about the family double.
A small scream of delight after being told about the Birkett double made it clear she was excited about the family heroics.
“I asked him how he did and he just said they had ‘done OK’,” added Nix Birkett with a huge smile before describing their race.
“We managed to get off to a good start and we were up there with the some good men’s crews, which was amazing. We looked behind us and the other girls’ crew of Saskia (Hockly) and Rosie (Edwards) were on our diamond.
“Then when we looked back a few seconds later and they were off. So we managed to stay longer than them with some strong men’s crews, but unfortunately we fell off near Gonubie and from there we had no one around us, so we had to pull all by ourselves, which was really tough for us.”
As tough as it was, there is no doubt it was worthwhile for the new South African champions as well as the Border Canoe Club and the Eastern Cape Canoe Union.
KZN’s Hockly and her UK partner, Edwards, finished second with Western Cape juniors Georgia Singe and Holly Smith claiming the bottom step of the podium.
The mixed doubles was, predictably, an easy win for Saturday’s singles winner, Hank McGregor and his wife Pippa, who finished 14th overall and over seven minutes ahead of Gavin McNish and Kirstin Scott with Andre and Ellen Strydom a few seconds further back.