Planets lining up for Freedom Day surfski classic

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With a record field entered for the second edition of the Freedom Paddle surfski race on Saturday 27 April, the 320 athletes that have entered the event the emotionally significant circumnavigation of Robben Island look set to be greeted by favourable weather.

Race organiser Richard Kohler confirmed that the weather forecast for the 27 kilometre race that starts and finishes at the Oceana Powerboat Club at the V&A Waterfront was for a light South Easterly wind to be blowing on the morning of the race.

“The character of the race will always be heavily determined by the weather and the prevailing wind, and it seems that we are going to get lucky on Saturday,” said Kohler.

After a week of gale force winds, the Saturday forecast of mild South Easterly winds will ensure that the big field of 112 double skis and over 70 single skis have a tail wind for the first half of the race, but will have to work hard as they paddle into the wind on the return leg from Robben Island.

“The South Easter puts us in the wind shadow of Table Mountain, and crucially it takes the risk of fog out of the equation,” added Kohler.

The race had elaborate plans in place to deal with fog as visibility loss due to heavy fog would have posed a serious safety risk to the event, and might even lead it it’s cancellation if the fog doesn’t lift during the day.

Kohler pointed out that the South Easter also created less of a risk with the surf breaking around Robben Island.

“One of the reasons we paddle anti-clockwise around Robben Island is so that the paddlers can see the surf easily from some way off, and there shouldn’t be any risk of skis getting caught in breaking surf,” he said.

In what is the strongest and biggest double ski event on the global calendar, the race will also double as the national double ski title decider and has attracted a large and very competitive field to the Western Cape, which will also host the CSA S1 title race at the Strand on Sunday.

Locals Jasper Mocké and Nicky Notten return to defend the title they won last year, in a rejigged boat that sees Notten take charge of steering the boat and Mocké, who is on the comeback after a two-month paddling lay-off, assume the engine role in the back of the ski.

Race sponsors Euro Steel have ensured that virtually all their elite team racers will be on the startline, including their marathon world champion pair of Hank McGregor and Andy Birkett, who are also defending the SA S2 title they won last year.

They will be under serious pressure as pundits believe any-one of twelve elite men’s crews could race onto the podium, which should ensure that the 27km race is not only fast but also tactically volatile.

Red Bull’s Dusi star Sbonelo Khwela will fly in for the event, having secured the services of Crispin Thompson to partner him. Khwela admits that they are unlikely to be in a position to threaten the podium but instead, like many of the athletes, attaches massive significance to the opportunity to pay homage to the legacy of Nelson Mandela on Freedom Day by paddling to the island where he was imprisoned.

The women’s title race can be shortlisted to a smaller number of double ski crews but should be equally compelling. Reigning surfski world champ Hayley Nixon has enlisted seasoned Durban surfski pro Michelle Burn as her partner, while Nixon’s partner to victory last year Sabina Lawrie responded by signing up London Olympics bronze medallist Briudgoitt6e Hartley for the race. Added to that mix the local challenge from Bianca Beavitt and Melanie van Niekerk and the women’s race will attract a lot of attention.

The event will include a number of paddlers determined to complete the outing in single skis, while the event will set another unique record when no less than four triple skis, each representing different province, turn out for the event. These unique craft are a world-first developed by Carbonology in Port Elizabeth, and have attracted eager crews of largely social paddlers, including the trio of TV personality Liesl van der Westhuizen, partnering Ant Lake and John Standley in a crew being dubbed ‘Two Giraffes and an Ant’.

At the heart of the event is a campaign to rid the oceans of plastics,. A message that will resonate with the record-breaking field of suerfski paddlers in Cape Town for the offshore paddling bonanza this weekend.

The Freedom Paddle 2019 takes place on 27 April 2019 from the Oceana Power Boat Club on the V&A Waterfront, around Robben Island and back, a distance of 27 kilometres.

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