Cape Town – A mouth-watering clash of the surfski titans will provide an appropriate highlight on Freedom Day as the Prescient Freedom Paddle circumnavigation of Robben Island gets underway with one of the strongest fields assembled for a surfski race anywhere in the world this year.
The out-and-back race from the V&A Waterfront will see both defending champion crews reunited for the defence of their crowns, with the added weight of the event also deciding the Canoeing South Africa double ski title for 2022.
Having won the race more times than any other paddler, South Africa’s most decorated paddler Hank McGregor will stare down the prospect of a hat-trick of wins with East London raised Josh Fenn in the men’s race, and will start as the crew to beat.
The Euro steel crew is currently the national double ski title holders, having won the title in Durban last year, and prevailed over a similarly stellar field in the Dischem Pete Marlin double ski race off Fenn’s home town of East London.
However McGregor and Fenn will see a star-studded field assembled around them as the batch gathers under starters orders at the Oceana Powerboat Club on Wednesday morning.
Current surfski world champ Nick Notten has Dusi icon Andy Birkett signed up as a partner in a bid to try and deny McGregor and Fenn their hat-trick of wins, Dom Notten partners Matt Fenn in another serious title-contender boat, Kenny Rice and UIi Hart pose an ominous threat while the evergreen Fish Hoek brothers Dawid and Jasper Mocké have an impressive pedigree and form coming into the event.
With the event sandwiched between the SA Sprint Champs held at Lomond this past weekend and the national single ski champs on the weekend ahead, the rare opportunity to challenge for national medals in three divisions in eight days has lured many of the country’s best in all the age divisions to the Western Cape.
The women’s title race should provide just as compelling a spectacle, with the 2021 title holders Kira Bester and Candice Murray eager to continue their impressive track record at the iconic Cape event, but with Murray carrying a nagging concern over her recent bout of Covid-19.
Two seasoned river marathon Euro Steel crews will be eager to capitalise on any weakness in the champion crew, with two of the crews that raced onto the MyLife Dusi podium coming to the event in top form.
Christie Mackenzie and Jordy Peek seem to get stronger with every outing together, while London Olympics medallist Bridgitte Hartley teams up again with Pippa McGregor, adding a novel twist to the event by the prospect of a husband and wife potentially winning their respective title.
The signature 27km circumnavigation features two S3, or triple skis, which are unique in world surfski racing, and a big field of single ski paddlers.
The move to make the landmark event accessible to younger paddlers and the lifesaving community, the 8km and 15km shorter course events that skirt the Cape coastline have both attracted big fields of athletes eager to get involved in the unique celebration of Nelson Mandela’s legacy.
“As proud sponsor of the Prescient Freedom Paddle, we appreciate that paddlers are fastidious about details, from training to preparation and execution.” said Willie Venter, Chief Executive Officer at Prescient.
“Similarly, we at Prescient are meticulous in our methods, determined in our approach and steadfast in our commitment to growing and protecting our clients’ assets.
“Certainty comes from consistency, a trait we share with paddlers,” he added.