Following the migration of the Durban Downwind north to the holiday town of Ballito, the first edition of the Ballito Downwind is on course to be an exciting affair when the province’s best surfski paddlers take on the Indian Ocean this Sunday.
The event, which will take place over 18km from Blythdale Beach to Tiffany’s Beach in Salt Rock, and with the many surfing fanatics in the area for the annual Ballito Pro the paddlers might be in for a grandstand finish when they race for the line.
With the North Easterly set to be more consistent on Sunday, race organiser Barry Lewin decided that it would be the best day to run the event over a weekend where conditions are set to be moderate.
The event will prioritise double skis this year with a number of high profile paddling partnerships set to be on the start line on Sunday.
Favourites for the title will be the Hank McGregor/Lee Furby duo who are no strangers to the waters of the North Coast with local knowledge going to prove important on the day.
Following the recent retirement from K1 marathon racing by the multiple world champion McGregor, his focus is now mainly on ocean paddling making his form an ominous sign for the rest of the field.
They will be pushed to the finish line by the Team Slummies pair of Luke Nisbet and Steve Woods.
The ladies race is also one to look out for with two strong crews lining up for a title shot.
Jenna Ward and Donna Winter of Team Jen & Don will be a tough nut to crack in the conditions while Damsels in Success’ Hayley Nixon and Sabina Lawrie will also be eyeing the top step of the podium.
Lawrie, who is a junior surfski world champion, and Nixon, who is the current women’s surfski world champion, will hold the edge going into the 18km sprint but with surf conditions being slightly unpredictable the race could be won and lost in the surf.
McGregor and Furby will be a force to be reckoned with particularly after McGregor’s record breaking win in the singles race at the 46km Scottburgh2Brighton race last weekend.
McGregor took down a twenty year old record set by Brett Pengelly in 1998, shaving almost ten minutes off a record that many said would stand forever.
McGregor got a call from local Hi Q and local surfski sponsor Glenn Evans a day after the race offering to pay a cash incentive that he had put up in 2013 for any paddler that broke Pengelly’s single ski record.
“I am a man of my word,” said Evans, himself a surfski enthusiast. “I think a lot of people had forgotten about my offer but when I heard that Hank had paddled 2 hours 53 minutes time for a single Scottburgh2Brighton I had to make good on my offer.”
McGregor said that he thought any hopes of a record were going to be doused by the massive surf at Amanzimtoti where the race had a compulsory beach stop.
“The surf was absolutely crunching on the sandbar. First I saw Barry Lewin’s double ski swimming, the Hamish Lovemore’s double ski broke in the foamies while were waiting for a gap between the huge sets.
“When I finally took a swim as well I didn’t feel too bad, but I did think that had put paid to any chance of a record.”