The popular Varsity College FNB Marine Surfski Series makes a welcome return on Friday evening for KwaZulu-Natal’s elite and social ocean paddlers alike after the recent festive season downtime.
With the New Year comes a fresh start for many and the Marine Surf Lifesaving Club based chain of races on Durban Bay is no different as banking giant First National Bank joins forces with the incumbent title sponsor Varsity College for the 2015 edition.
“We are really excited for this year’s Varsity College FNB Marine Surfski Series,” says series coordinator Barry Lewin.
“It is great to have Varsity College back with us again for the sixth year running as well as to welcome FNB to the Marine Surfski Series fold for the first time,” he adds.
On the water more of the same can be expected in the men’s title race as Hank McGregor (Team Jeep/Epic Kayaks) and Matthew Bouman (Epic Kayaks) look set to resume their age-old rivalry with Varsity College youngster Grant van der Walt likely to be hot on their heels throughout the ten-week long competition.
It is however the women’s clash that has much of the local surfski fraternity abuzz as the unrivaled depth in world class ability promises a mouth-watering title challenge.
Regular victor and series defending champ Michelle Burn (Team Jeep/Fenn Kayaks) is set to make a welcome return to action this Friday evening after a lengthy lay-off from the sport due to the birth of her and husband, and fellow top paddler, Oliver Burn’s first child last year.
Despite Burn’s sublime pedigree and unmatched success in the Marine Surfski Series, it is in fact Fenn Kayaks’ paddler and 2014 Marathon World Championships Under-23 Women’s bronze medalist Jenna Ward who is set to start this year’s series as favourite.
The young star finished third in last year’s series behind Burn and Varsity College/Fenn Kayaks’ Nikki Russell before going on to clinch victory in the Bay Union Surfski Series and the Illovo Suncoast Pirates Wall & Back Surfski Series in the winter and spring of 2014 respectively, which catapulted Ward into the limelight.
2014 was however a year of great success for Russell as well and so Ward will certainly have her work cut out for her.
“It would be really great to win the Marine Surfski Series this year but the likes of Michelle (Burn), Nikki (Russell), Danica (Bartho) and others make just winning a Friday evening race tough enough, let alone the overall series title!” says Ward.
“I’ve been training pretty hard though for all of marathon, river marathons, sprints and surfski so hopefully I can just go out there and try be as consistent as possible throughout the series,” she adds.
While the battles at the front of the field remain fierce, the races within a race a little further back in the vets, masters and junior categories also promise to produce many a post-race war story.
The Lettie Paddle Surfski Challenge, race seven of the ten leg series, is the only exception to the series’ Friday evening stagings. Tuesday 17 February’s surfski action provides the ideal pre-Dusi Canoe Marathon final touch up opportunity ahead of that weekend’s river marathon major.
For the second year running, the race adds a charitable element to the series as the paddlers show their support of Danica Bartho’s Lettie Paddle initiative.
The 2015 Varsity College FNB Marine Surfski Series gets underway with the FNB Surfski Challenge this Friday, 9 January at 17h30 at Addington Beach while pre-series registration takes place on Thursday 8 January at Marine Surf Lifesaving Club from 16h00-19h00.
2015 Varsity College FNB Marine Surfski Series dates:
8 Jan: Registration at Marine Surf Lifesaving Club
9 Jan: FNB Surfski Challenge
16 Jan: McCarthy Toyota Durban Kingsmead Surfski Challenge
23 Jan: Borland Surfski Challenge presented by Marriott
30 Jan: Thule Surfski Challenge
6 Feb: Bay Union Surfski Challenge
13 Feb: Hansa Surfski Challenge
17 Feb: Lettie Paddle Surfski Challenge
27 Feb: IT Works Surfski Challenge
6 Mar: HiQ Surfski Challenge
13 Mar: Varsity College Surfski Challenge & Varsity College SA Schools Surfski Champs
17 Mar: Varsity College FNB Surfski Series Final Prize Giving @ Billy The Bums