Andy Birkett has added his name to the entry for the Bay Union King of the Bay surfski classic on Sunday, adding real spice to the iconic race from the Silt Canal Bayhead, across Durban harbour and out through the breakwater piers into the open ocean.
With mild weather conditions forecast for Sunday morning, the conditions will play into Birkett’s hands as he squares up to the Durban surfski series pacesetter Matt Bouman (SMG/Epic Kayaks), who was last year denied by the surprise visit to the event of Capetonian Brandon van der Walt.
Bouman will still fancy his chances, with Van der Walt and 2016 champ Hank McGregor both absent, and he will relish the challenge from Birkett, and the class of the ever-improving Luke Nisbett, over the demanding 22 kilometres race.
Birkett finished second last year, and says he feels he can go one better.
“I have a very healthy respect for Matt Bouman, especially in the ocean ,” said the Euro Steel racer, the reigning FNB Dusi Champ and World Marathon Champs silver medallist.
“I don’t want to put myself under too much pressure, but then I am very competitive and I go into races to try and win them.” he added.
Birkett’s skills in the ocean have come on in leaps and bounds in the past year, and he rates his second place in last year’s King of the Bay as a rookie error.
“I thought I had the jump on Brandon (van der Walt) in the sprint to the beach, then I decided to try and put my ski on my head for a Dusi-Style portage to the finish line. That was a spectacularly bad idea!” he recalls.
Now married and living in Durban Birkett can fit in a lot more ski training, while his principle aim remains training for the national canoeing marathon championships next month.
The women’s race will be fascinating to follow as a far more open field, laced with variables, will see the likes of Kyeta Purchase, Donna Winter and Kerry Segal and the Under 23 speedster Sabina Lawrie dukeing it out for the top spot on the podium, and a share of the R10 000 in prize money up for grabs at the event.
The race is unique in that it is the only opportunity for surfski paddlers to paddle across Durban harbour and out of the harbour mouth. It is an exercise that involves numerous role players and has been deftly managed by Stella Canoe Club boss Neels Meyers since it’s inception thirteen years ago.
“We start by securing the services of the NSRI, an organisation that has a brilliant relationship with the surfski community,” said Meyer.
“Then we work with the Port Authority and SAMSA to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
“Durban is a major commercial harbour and they won’t actually stop commercial shipping traffic. The race is on a Sunday morning, which is usually very quiet from a ship movement point of view, but we set up thorough communications with all the authorities including the harbour police so that everyone knows about the race.
“It is an intricate process to follow when organising, but we are fortunate to have enjoyed unbelievable support from all of the authorities involved,” said Meyer.
The elite racers complete a 22 kilometres route that turns off the uMngeni River mouth and returns to the finish site at Marine SLC at Addington beach while the inexperienced and less fit paddlers turn straight into Addington beach to complete the 11 kilometre short course.
Weather conditions for the race look superb, which is sure to fuel a surge of last minute entries that will be taken at the start.