With one of the annual highlights of the surfski calendar taking place in Durban this weekend, many of the country’s best paddlers will line up alongside one another for the Bay Union King of the Bay on Sunday.
The iconic 22 kilometre race that is the only chance in the year for surfski paddlers to race across and out of Durban harbour has attracted a stellar field, through a few luminaries will be absent because they are taking part in the Maui Jim Molokai Challenge in Hawaii.
One of those is Hank McGregor, who is lining up another win in the 52km crossing of the Ka’iwi channel, setting the stage for a humdinger of a duel back in his hometown between the potent local contenders eager to snatch the lion’s share of the R10 000 prize purse.
Matt Bouman (SMG/Epic Kayaks) has been relentlessly consistent this season and will start as favourite for the King of the Bay crown, but he will be put under severe pressure by the continually evolving Luke Nisbett.
The on-form Bevan Manson has also travelled to Durban for the race from East London, which will be focussed on single skis for the key 2018 title race.
Wade Krieger, who has been sidelined by injury in recent weeks, will in all likelihood watch the action from the sidelines.
The women’s field is bristling with talent, and calling a favourite is tricky, particularly as Hayley Nixon is away in Hawaii for the Molokai, and Michelle Burn is also not racing.
Sabina Lawrie, after her impressive win in the recent Bamboo Warehouse Freedom Paddle with Nixon suddenly comes into the reckoning, as the youngster continues her rise through the Under 23 ranks.
Expect the competition to be particularly fierce, especially over the closing stages of the demanding 22 kilometres course, as the class of Donna Winter, Kerry Segal and Kyeta Purchase have all put their hands up for the race.
Lawrie comes into the race off a marathon base, where she has been partnering Olympian Bridgitte Hartley in the K2 races, and will be good for the distance, which is always a factor as the race is almost double the distance of the weekly races that made up the recent Pitch and Paddle series races.
Purchase has been committed to a few months of tough lifesaving competition, but will bring her tenacity to the party to shore uyp any shortfall in her long distance base training.
The start across the Durban harbour is clam and sheltered, making the eight kilometres from the Bay Head Silt Canal to the harbour breakwater a key sprint before exiting into the open ocean.
Crafty choices may well be a factor, particularly as the weather conditions look to be mild for the race on Sunday
Since it was started a decade ago, the Bay Union King of the Bay has quickly entrenched itself as a premium event on the national surfski calendar, attracting widespread support from paddlers of all abilities.
The race offers a short course option of eleven kilometres that allows less fit paddlers to head straight to the race finish at Marine SLC on Addington Beach, just in time to watch the expect5ed sprint finishes of the senior men’s and women’s races.