Mark’s Diary – Winter Series – Pirates Umhlanga Pirates



Well!, it’s the oldest surfski race in South Africa, and some things do not change. 27km is not far by any standards, but somehow this is always a hard race. In most cases I think it is just the mental factor of having to turn around at half way and bash your way back to Durban against the current, the swell, the breeze, which can whip up into a head wind at any stage. ( This year true to form, a nasty fresh head wind kicked up for the middle to back of the field.) You are also very exposed on the way back to Durban. There are no land masses or building masses to buffer the wind at all. I have not even mentioned the surf, which was not bad going out, but on the way back coming in, the shore break really sorted out some of the less experienced paddlers.

Leaving Durban you always have a decision of whether to paddle out to sea first and get into the swells, which may help you on the approach to Umhlanga rocks, or follow the back line and benefit from the counter current and land breeze blowing you out of the Umgeni River Valley. We had South Westerly winds all week and a large swell. There was no land breeze at all, so I went out to sea. It seemed to work because I reached Umhlanga Rocks about 7th overall which is ahead of where I expected to be. More importantly, I had not worked hard at all going there, running on the top of the swell.

Coming back was survival, as I was locked into a tough battle in the master’s singles race, with Stretch Struwig from Richards Bay. The playing fields were level. We are on the same boat, (SYNERGY 2) favored by both of us for its ability to run on the slightest bump and being very comfortable for bigger paddlers. We were passed by a packed of 4 young paddlers working together in the slog back to Durban. We tried to stay with them for a while but they simply have no respect for a couple of old guys that have frustratingly beaten them on the down wind leg. We were left to fight it out between the two of us right to the end buoy marker off the finish at the end. I got one over him on the way coming in and an unfortunately long swim cost him a lot more places in the results.

In an open ocean race, I find a turn buoy offshore at the finish of a race to be a real problem. It means that you have to get to the finish in a straight line through the surf. Open ocean surfski’s are not designed to do this in sizeable surf. Secondly the conditions will usually be across you and from the buoy to the beach you are very likely to wash completely off course and struggle against a wash. Thirdly the whole field of the race is travelling on the same path, and anybody that wipes out tends to take others with them.

Sunday was no exception. We were into the wind and swell, so after reaching the turn, I carried on in a wide arch against the wind giving up a bit of distance to the finish, but you can see from the attached picture it left me with a clear run in with the wind and swell (right of camera), watching the carnage of my opposition colliding with another ski from a slower batch, damaging his ski and allowing me to pass him.

We are closing in on the Durban surfski world Cup next week, with much excitement in the paddling fraternity.

See you on the water



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