When the record field lines up at the Oceana Powerboat club at the V&A Waterfront for the Freedom Paddle surfski race around Robben Island on Saturday 27 April, FNB Dusi icon Sbonelo Khwela will add spice to the already highly charged race.
The Red Bull star, who lives at Shongweni outside Durban, is relishing the chance to be on the start line, having secured Crispin Thompson as his partner for the race that will double as the national double ski title decider for 2019.
For Khwela (Red Bull/Euro Steel), who finished second to Andy Birkett in the gripping 2019 Dusi, the chance to be part of the hugely symbolic race around Robben Island on Freedom Day was one that he was not willing to get pass.
“I am so excited to be part of this race. There is such a great story behind this race, and I watched it last year and thought ‘Wow! One day I want to be able to say that I have done that’.”
Khwela openly admits that surfski racing is not his main focus, and rather aims to peak each year for the unique running and paddling demands of the Dusi.
He is now branching into trail running as the winter approaches, but when his sponsors got behind the Freedom Paddle and the door opened to his participation, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation from the athlete who turns 31 the day before the Freedom Paddle.
“After spending the summer months training and racing in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, it will be quite exciting to be able to go to Cape Town to paddle,” he said.
Khwela is cautious about predicting any results from his double ski outing, particularly as he will have precious little time to settle into the partnership with Thompson.
While he has raced some surfski series races in Durban, he is happy to concede that there are many paddlers around him that boast substantial surfski pedigrees that can be expected to get the better of them on the day.
He also understands that the character of the race will be heavily influenced by the weather and ocean conditions on the day
“I have heard that the sea can get quite rough around Robben Island when the wind blows from one particular direction,” says Khwela.
“Luckily my partner is not only a skilled surfski paddler, but he knows the local conditions, so I will trust his judgement,” the Dusi star concluded.