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Surfski | Plenty to motivate SA's top surfski paddlers

DURBAN – This weekend's South African Surfski Championships in Durban will have an extra edge with a bit of extra motivation for the top competitors over an above national titles.

Kira Bester will be hoping to defend her SA Championships title and kick off her journey to a World Championship victory

Led by home-town favourite Hank McGregor, a strong field of the country's elite surfski paddlers has congregated in Durban with the primary objective of claiming SA Championship titles – but there will also be extra incentives of national team selections, a new national surfski series, and a long-term look toward the 2025 World Championships.

This weekend's racing is a preview of the 2025 World Championships course which will be held at the same venue, and the two days of action will be used to select the national team for the 2024 World Championships on the island of Madeira in October. It is also the second leg of the lucrative three-legged Euro Steel Surfski TRPL Crown which started with the Prescient Freedom Paddle in April in Cape Town and ends with the Biogen Pete Marlin Surfski Race in East London in November.

Somewhat ironically as the Western Cape is battered by heavy, destructive storms, some benign weather on the balmy KZN coast has resulted in some changes to the weekend programme. The lack of wind predicted for Saturday has meant the organisers have swopped the order of racing to give the more important singles event better conditions. That means the S2 race will now be an out-and-back route from DUC on Saturday, and the S1 or singles race on Sunday will see paddlers going from DUC to Umdloti.

Heading the field on both days is likely to be McGregor, who at 46-years-old is still the paddler to beat in any ski race he enters. The Durban local will team up with Eastern Cape's Joshua Fenn on Saturday and the manner in which they demolished the field in the recent Freedom Paddle means they are clearly the crew with a target on their back.

Their biggest challenges should come from Uli Hart and Matthew Fenn, or Kenny Rice and Nic Notten, while Ron Benjano and Mark Keeling are likely to be close.

In the women's race, there is once again a strong contingent. The flat conditions could make Saskia Hockly and Christie Mackenzie hard to beat, while the young canoeing junior World Champions Holly Smith and Georgia Singe, and Jenna Nisbet and Bridgitte Hartley are all sure to be prominent. However, the two crews that will be marginal favourites are likely to be Kira Bester and Melanie van Niekerk or Jade Wilson and Nix Birkett.

Sunday's S1 race looks like being a fierce struggle between defending champion Mcgregor, the Fenn brothers Matthew and Joshua Fenn, Rice, Hart and Notten.

The women's battle is likely to be just as tight with 2023 champion Bester, Wilson, Van Niekerk, Pippa Mcgregor, Michelle Burn, Nix Birkett and Hockly the main protagonists.

Saturday's race starts at 9am at DUC (Durban Underwater Club) and the start time of Sunday's event, also from DUC,will be confirmed on Friday

Durban, Surfski, South African Surfski Championships

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