As Friday evening’s Varsity College Surfski Challenge brought the curtain down on the 2015 Varsity College FNB Marine Surfski Series and saw Hank McGregor and Michelle Burn claim the men’s and women’s race victories, all eyes were on the Bailey de Fondaumiere and Kyeta Purchase as the pair were crowned 2015 National Schools Surfski Champions.
De Fondaumiere and Purchase have been in sublime form throughout Durban’s summer series and the pair made their good run of form count when it mattered most as the charged home ahead of their fellow school-going rivals to clinch victory in the Varsity College FNB South African Schools Surfski Championships.
Clifton College’s Luke Criticos took the Under-18 boys challenge by the scruff of the neck from the outset as he charged out the blocks and forced the hand of his two nearest rivals – de Fondaumiere and Fish Hoek High School’s Mark Keeling.
Keeling was however determined to go one better than his 2014 runner-up position though and so when a gap opened up around the turning buoy, he grabbed it with both hands and surged into the lead.
De Fondaumiere was however not about to surrender the title on his home turf and a last minute charge through the surf and a sprint up the beach eventually handed the Two Bridges pupil the crown.
“Before the race I wasn’t really focused purely on winning the title, I was more out there just to have some fun as this is my first year as an Under-18 paddler and I knew I still had next year,” explained de Fondaumiere. “It is really nice to add my name to the winners list though!
“Luke and I paddled the Cape Point Challenge together last year so I got to know him quite well and we’ve become friends from that so it is nice to have got one over him here,” he added.
Last year saw de Fondaumiere head to France for the Lifesaving World Championships for Clubs with the Marine Surf Lifesaving outfit where he picked up a third in the ‘around the cans’ ski event.
This international experience together with his regular head to head clashes with some of Durban’s top senior surfski aces throughout the Marine Surfski Series saw him enjoy tremendous growth ahead of this year’s national schools contest.
“I think paddling against the senior guys during the series definitely helped me with my speed in the closing stages and because of that I knew I could hold Mark off at the end!”
“It has also usually been a run up the beach between Luke (Criticos) and I over the past few weeks so that also wasn’t something all that new for me either.”
Purchase’s transformation over the past twelve months has also been remarkable and the Fenn Kayaks youngster has already set her sights on regularly mixing it up with her senior rivals in the near future.
“Racing against the women throughout the Marine Surfski Series has given me the confidence to push myself and believe in myself,” explained the Our Lady of Fatima pupil.
“It is great to have won the title and it was a big turnaround from last year when I got off the water in the pitch black and in tears!”
The Under-16 boys title went the way of youngster Joshua Fenn who got the better of fellow East London youngsters William Wood and Tayne Thompson.
Depsite the men’s series title already under his belt, Jeep Team/Epic Kayaks’ McGregor wasn’t about to rest on his laurels and with a strong field having assembled for the series finale the five time Marathon World Champ got out the blocks strongly and never looked back as he notched up his seventh race victory of the series.
Epic Kayaks’ Matt Bouman added another second place to his series tally before Cape Town’s Brandon van der Walt and Kenny Rice (Think Kayaks) edged out regular third place finisher Wade Krieger.
With Jenna Ward having sewn up the women’s series crown already, Burn’s race victory saw her take yet another step towards a return to top form after taking some time out from the sport recently due to the birth of her first child.
KwaZulu-Natal’s surfski community now turns its attention towards the Bay Union Surfski Series that takes place in winter while the FNB Durban Downwind is another major highlight on the horizon for many.