The format of a 22 – 25km single ski race on a Saturday and a double ski race over the same distance the next day works for a number of reasons. It is not a killer physically. It gives clubs in some of the lesser known paddling areas of the country a chance to lay on something special for a whole weekend and give visiting paddlers a great paddling experience. It worked last year in East London and again in no uncertain terms this past weekend in Richards Bay. On both occasions the organizers very faced with radical conditions, but were able to give us two great days of racing. In addition to this, an overnight visit to places like Richards Bay is great for paddlers to get together and socialize. Get to know more about that area and the paddlers from that part of the country. The awesome group of paddlers from the Zululand Kayak club were incredible hosts, also laying on a good social evening on Saturday night.

In Richards Bay this past weekend we had it all. Massive surf and strong wind which prompted the organizers to change the order to doubles on Saturday and an out and back course starting inside Richards Bay harbour, with a unique feature of a small playful wave
inside the harbour. Into the wind for 11km, which was tough but achievable in a
double ski, and a very exciting run back in a big down wind swell. Some really
great racing in all the categories. The quality of the field was again amazing,
with Hank McGregor & Grant van der Walt beating Mathew Bouman and Bevan
Manson for the title, and Dawid Mocke and Barry Lewin,
filling third place on the podium.

On Sunday the surf had dropped enough for us to have a 23km
down wind paddle, in very hot sunny weather after the swell had dropped
dramatically over night. The tricky shore break at the launch area prompted an
offshore wet start, giving paddlers time to get out through the surf. For most
of the paddlers this was not a problem, but there were some unfortunate
casualties. The odd wave really did pop up and catch a few people off guard.
You had to bide your time a bit and pick a good break. The racing was great
offshore with Hank McGregor showing his dominance of South African paddling at
the moment, winning ahead of Dawid Mocke and Mathew Bouman.

I was happy with the spread of our craft in the event. There
were a good few more APEX 2 double ski’s in the line up, with most of the
paddlers on the APEX 2 making the podium in their categories. The APEX 2 revels
in the down wind conditions. The BULLET is increasing in stature, with a few in
the top 10 and top 20 overall and young paddler Jabin Lyons, having bad luck in
the shore break at the start, missing the gun and getting away last, still
making it back through the field to claim a bronze medal in the under 23
category on his BULLET single ski. What was also evident was the amount of
paddlers in the age group categories on our SYNERGY single ski making the
podium. I sneaked in with a gold medal in the sub grand masters category on a
SYNERGY. The SYNERGY is a very under rated ski in those down wind conditions. I
really had a lot of fun.

I cannot wait to start production on our new lower volume
intermediate ski, based on the SYNERGY. It is going to be a big hit with
intermediate paddlers that still want to be competitive.

See you on the water



Posted in Mark's Diary, Racing, South Africa, Surfski | 2 Comments

“New” Rescue Craft

Lifesaving clubs, wanting to be competitive have had competition racing rescue craft shaped and manufactured for them for a number of years. In recent years these have become 1) very expensive 2) Because they are expensive clubs do not use them very often and the competitors do not get a chance to practice on these lighter more sophisticated craft, and 3) Not many of them meet the International safety specifications required of these craft which is going to become an issue for them as scrutineering becomes more
of a reality on all craft.

For a number of years my lifesaving club, “Marine SLC in Durban”
has had a double seated version which has been very successful in lifesaving
competitions. It has a forward paddling position and a well balanced back
sitting position when paddling back to the beach with a patient on it. It meets
all the international specifications, is longer than the existing molded models
and is virtually double the buoyancy, making it fast, very easy to paddle and a
lot safer to paddle and surf, even with a patient on board.

We have remodeled this craft and taken a mold off it, in confidence that it is a vastly improved craft, for both patrol and competition purposes. Clubs can purchase a standard weight model for patrol purposes and their members can become proficient in using the same craft that they will be racing at competitions. With today’s technology, we can make
lightweight models of the same craft for competition use. Maintenance on these
is a lot easier than custom shaped models.

Last week the first two of these craft were in action in a very successful professional lifeguard carnival in Durban with teams coming from different regions. I lent out two of the new craft to our central borough, who won all the craft rescue events in the competition on the new craft.

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KZN Single Ski Champs – Good Downwind

Nothing like a title to bring out the top guns. Last weekend saw the local “DaReal downwind series race 3 “, elevated to the status of KwaZulu Natal Single Surfski Championships.

You know the competition is tough when previous National champions have to pull
out all the stops to make the top 5 placing’s.

You also do not often have all the elements in your favour. Race organizer Angus Ferguson made the call to wait until Sunday afternoon to run the 23km race back to Durban from
Umhloti. He called it spot on, with good sunny warn weather, good running downwind conditions and very little surf at the often tricky start at Umhloti.

There was a small but tricky back break at the finish, but nothing too troublesome. I did see a ski break in half at the finish but this was another, “Glass vacuum” ski. Something
I have touched on in previous blogs.

Good quality racing it was. The tame shore break at the start allowed for a fast even break for all the leaders. It really was great out there and you could run from wave to wave
at will the whole 23km. You have a decision 18km out, of whether to stay close
and follow the line across the Bay or take a Tiger line, across the Bay, giving
up the longer runs in the beginning, to have a better line to the finish in the
last 6km. the field splits up quite quickly so you just have to go flat out,
not knowing who is in front or behind you until you start coming together again
in the last 6km.

The big names came filing in. Hank McGregor, Mathew Bouman, Daryl Bartho, Herman Chalupsky, Grant van der Walt.  There was some close racing in all the age group categories.

It really got the KZN paddlers amped up for this weekend’s S.A. Championships in Richards Bay. Watch this space.

See you on the start line.


Posted in Mark's Diary, Racing, Surfski | Leave a comment



 We are blessed with some of the best down wind paddling conditions anywhere in the World offDurban. This is much publicized but the next big topic is that you have to beach somewhere, and we do not have any good sheltered bays in which to beach like they do in theCape. With the exception of theDurbanbeachfront itself, you have the added threat of rock s along most of our beaches.

 he pounding surf  that hits our beaches very regularly creates a steep almost 45 degree slope on the beach. (Very hard to get out of your ski and run up a step soft slope after a long paddle when there is a limited amount of blood flow in your legs). Add to this, down wind conditions usually generate a fast flowing inshore gulley and an awkward steep hollow shore break. None of these factors are conducive to beaching a 6m long craft, even more so in a 7.5m long double ski. The outcome is a high casualty rate in terms of damaged to ski’s.

 The sad thing is that the risk of damaging boats is what prevents a lot of paddlers from venturing on down winds. Learning is never cheap in any form of endeavor, so yes there will be casualties. Why do the good guys make it look so easy? There is a right way and a wrong way of doing it. Momentum is the key. Approaching the beach directly, point on is the start of the problems. Fighting against a proverbial side wash and the back wash of the shore break slows the ski down a lot and it is hard to keep a decent speed. This  results in the ski hitting the sand at way too much of an angle and you have to stop the ski from pinning into the sand. The shore break takes over and does what it wants to with you.

Approaching the shore break at an angle to the beach, at the best possible speed with the side wash behind you, allows you to just slide off the back of the shore break and with full forward momentum, changing direction towards the beach and use the water that has breaking up the beach ahead of you to push you as far up the beach as possible before you dismount.

 I have attached a picture of Malcolm Pitt and Rex McGregor, beaching in a menacing shore break, after they have just slid off the back of the wave and have changed direction towards the beach. They beached without incident.

 Malcolm Pitt & Rex McGregor – Dolphin Coast Challenge 2011


 The race has been widely publicized already but I have just included a few good pictures showing the front bunch of paddlers early in the race with Barry’s striking BULLET up in the mix going towards the hot spot.

See you on the water.


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 Large swells still continue to pound our coastline. This is a picture of the surf at Umhlanga rocks beach yesterday. The lifeguard tower building is a full three storey high building above the normal high water mark.  


As the winter surfski season inDurbanwraps up and the calendar starts to take shape for the Summer, you tend to forget or just bypass the small things that go towards making paddling such a great community.

We had this year, visitingDurbanfromDubai, an expat South African, Nico Smit, coming out to do the Scottburgh to Brighton marathon in a double ski with a lady paddler fromDubai, Becky Meheu. Becky has never been exposed to anything like our conditions before, and this years Scottburgh toBrightonwas no exception, with massive surf. These two hung in to finish the marathon after having a torrid time in the surf at both Scottburgh and at Amanzimtoti, and finish they did.

 They were very appreciative of the hospitality and amongst the other people they recognized, we offered a boat for them to use, and as a result, I am now the proud owner of a carved wooden camel curio fromDubaiwhich we will treasure. The attached picture is of these two gutsy paddlers, smashing through the surf at the start at Scottburgh.

It is great to have visiting paddlers take part in our races. They will certainly be welcome back.


 Across the Bay in the far corner of Durbanharbour exists, one of the really great Canoe clubs in our region. The Stella Canoe club boasts arguably the most fun loving social membership you will find anywhere. Steered by Neels Meyer and his committee, nothing is too much trouble for these guy’s. We have had a great relationship with Stella canoe Club over the years and are always happy to assist them with any events that they take on.

Early in the canoeing season they very unselfishly host a ladies day canoe race, geared to participation by ladies and people new to paddling. They do a lot to promote the sport, and particularly the fun side of it. Their role in the paddling community is not often recognised as much as it should.

We supported their event this year and attached is a picture of a group of the participants in lifejackets for the first time and paddles in hand waiting at the briefing.


 Tomorrow is the US Surfski Champs inSan Francisco. Good luck to the South Africans taking part.

See you on the water.


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The “BULLET” hits the USA

Custom Kayaks team rider Barry Lewin got 2nd at the Wavechaser Downwind race over the weekend in prep for the US Surfski Champs next week.

Barry is paddling a “Bullet” Lite in some bright colours. Yellow and Blue this time!

Check out his video from the race:


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I thought there might at least be a break in the hype that usually precedes events, with the Scottburgh to Brighton over and a small gap before the Dolphin Coast Challenge.

Not so at all. With having to do 6 qualifying races in order to qualify for the Fish River Canoe Marathon this year, the canoeing season and scramble for equipment has kicked in early this year, with orders for K1 and K2’s coming in on the Monday after the Scottburgh to Brighton Marathon. With our association with Popes Canoe Centre in Pietermaritzburg we were able to provide a very prompt service and get the paddlers on the water in new boats within a matter of days.

The coming lifesaving season , which starts in a September has also meant a flood of lifesaving craft to service and repair after the rough S.A. Lifesaving Champs we had in Cape Town a few months ago.


We hear so often about the potential big surf conditions that we have to deal with during the Dolphin coast challenge. This event in a few weeks time during August is both long and tough. A reminder of just how quickly this coastline can change, is the incredibly strong winds and huge swell that has battered the Dolphin coast for the past three days and the devastation it can cause. The swell and wind uprooted ships anchors in Durban Bay grounding a large tanker on the rocks north of Salt rock along the Dolphin coast Challenge route. There is another front coming through tomorrow, reducing the chances of getting the vessel off the rocks. It will be quite a spectacle passing that site during the race.


Our new intermediate single surfski is nearing completion, with a number of paddlers that we used to make assessments on the ski’s performance, waiting excitedly for the launch of the final product. The newer intermediate single surfski’s in the market at the moment have in my mind not fully catered for the intermediate paddlers overall needs, leaving paddlers that have opted for a shorter length ski or very stable ski, in the market to upgrade after a very short time. We think that after lots of testing using a large cross section of intermediate paddlers, that we have come up with a very user friendly intermediate single surfski, that is capable of performing up to the A grade level in flat conditions and elite level in rough conditions.


We have also completed a new lifesaving “competition” rescue craft. We have taken one of the most successful foam shaped competition rescue craft, that our club has won a lot of events on and made further improvements, and are busy molding this craft in order to reproduce them in a pop out version. The benefit of this is that we can produce a standard construction model for patrol use, and can make light weight composite models of the same craft for competitive use. “WATCH THIS SPACE”.

See you on the water

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