Racing at the front of the field of the Lettie Paddle Surfski Challenge, race seven of the 2015 Varsity College FNB Marine Surfski Series was as fierce as ever and Hank McGregor and Nikki Russell ultimately walked away with the men’s and women’s race spoils however Tuesday evening’s clash was far more than just a race as paddlers from throughout KwaZulu-Natal and beyond came together for a far greater cause.
The Lettie Paddle initiative began in support of Nikki ‘Lettie’ Haynes who bravely gave it her all in the fight against cancer and since the organisation’s hero’s sad passing in July 2014, members of the paddling fraternity have continued to back founder Danica Bartho’s inspirational work as she looks to bring support and assistance to those within paddling circles still fighting their own fights.
“Tonight was about shining light on one of our heroes, Dave Batchelor’s fight against cancer and not about cancer itself,” explained Bartho.
“The paddling community is such a tightly knit one and to have fellow paddlers come together and show their support of Dave was incredible. Everyone was dressed in pink, wore their Dave ‘Batch’ caps proudly and got behind our initiative whole-heartedly and I’m extremely grateful for everyone’s support!
“My appeal to everyone is to continue push that little bit harder in their next race or to paddle that extra kilometer in training for Dave who continues to fight his fight every single day in order to return to the water with us some day,” she added.
Despite the added presence of five time World Surfski Series champion Dawid Mocké on top of the regular world class Durban field and clad in his wife, Pippa’s bright pink maternity shirt and with hair pinker than a flamingo’s feathers, Jeep Team/Epic Kayaks McGregor overcame the stellar field to record his third consecutive race victory and fourth of the series to stamp his authority on the series’ title challenge.
“It was great to have Daw (Mocké) up here. He pushed us hard up front but fortunately I managed to get away and stay away on the second lap,” explained McGregor.
Mocké, in town due to the Dusi Canoe Marathon which takes place from Thursday to Sunday this week, was amazed at both the standard and depth of the competition on show throughout the contest as he clinched the bottom step of the podium behind McGregor and Epic Kayaks’ Matt Bouman.
“It really is great to see surfski paddling is thriving up here in KZN,” he said afterwards. “There was probably three times the normal turnout of our series’ races down in the Cape and this was apparently a significantly smaller turn-out than usual due to the Dusi this weekend!”
“It was a really tough paddle and a great race amongst us at the front. Hank was just incredible and then Matt gave me a couple of chances after he got stuck on a packet and then nearly fell out; I can’t believe I didn’t come second!” he chuckled.
Mocké’s presence meant the ever-consistent Wade Krieger missed out on a podium place for the first time in weeks however the surf lifesaving icon charged home to clinch fourth place ahead under-23 Gene Prato.
The women’s clash was a fascinating affair as Fenn Kayaks’ Nikki Russell – back from a stint in her home province, the Eastern Cape – took advantage of Jenna Ward’s absence due to her participation in the Dusi and powered home to victory ahead of the charginf under-18 Kyeta Pruchase (Fenn Kayaks) and last week’s race winner Michelle Burn (Fenn Kayaks).
The doubles race was fittingly saw Wayne Wilson and Zoog Haynes, husband of ‘Lettie’ Haynes, clinch the line honours ahead of Neil Evans and Gustav Kriese while Gareth Hazell won the short course’s singles and Varsity College’s Jody Taylor and Matthew Elliott the doubles.
This weekend’s Dusi Canoe Marathon sees no Varsity College FNB Marine Surfski Series action this Friday however action returns to Marine Surf Lifesaving Club on Friday 27 February when race eight, the IT Works Surfski Challenge gets underway at 17h30.