McGregor dominates Open Ocean Challenge series opener

Hank McGregor runs up the beach to win the Bay Union Open Ocean Challenge Surfski Challenge  the first leg of the Bay Union Open Ocean Surfski Challenge series. Lynne Hauptfleisch/ Gameplan Media

Hank McGregor runs up the beach to win the Bay Union Open Ocean Challenge Surfski Challenge the first leg of the Bay Union Open Ocean Surfski Challenge series. Lynne Hauptfleisch/
Gameplan Media

Durban -Fresh from his victory in Mauritius, and days before he jets off to international surfski events in Canada and the USA, Hank McGregor stole the limelight at the opening leg of the Bay Union Open Ocean Challenge Series, holding off Euro Steel team mate and surfski newbie Andy Birkett at the end of the 12km race.

Racing a straight out-and-back course from the series base at Durban Underwater Club to a turn buoy off the uMngeni River mouth, McGregor and Birkett quickly put space between themselves and the chasers Wade Krieger and Gene Prato, despite a scare at the start.

A casual McGregor was slow off the start line after realising that his paddles were incorrectly set up, and wasted time adjusting them from left feather to a right feather set-up. All this succeeding in doing was to excite several other elite paddlers, who felt they had been gifted a chance to get one over the multiple world marathon champion.

That hope was quickly snuffed out as McGregor deployed some of legendary speed to quickly establish himself at the front of the lead pack, and set up the win.

The onshore North-Easterly conditions eased during the weekend, making excellent open ocean racing conditions for the big field to enjoy, with the experienced paddlers able to milk the downwind runs and waves.

“It was a brilliant day to be out racing,” enthused McGregor. “Durban was really showing off and I am glad such a big field came out to enjoy the conditions.”

The Epic Kayaks team racer said that the 12km hit-out was an ideal warm up for his upcoming trip to the US and Canadian surfski events that will occupy his attention for the next two weeks, a tough decision for him as it meant foregoing the defence of his Berg River Canoe Marathon title.

Birkett, who is enjoying his foray into competitive surfski as part of his training for the ICF World Marathon Championships to be held in Pietermaritzburg in September, was equally bullish about the conditions and the intensity at the front of the lead pack.

Under 23 Prato held off Krieger for the last spot on the podium, with another rising star of the sport Bailey de Fondaumiere, rounding out the top five.

Seasoned Masters Bruce Wenke and Linton Hope led home the big double ski field ahead of Gavin Searle and Grant Smith.

The women’s race was equally competitive, with the Durban surfski community boasting some of the world’s best exponents of the sport. The livewire Nikki Russell took the top honours in a close tussle with the new SA champ Michelle Burn and Under 23 Kyeta Purchase.

The weekly Sunday morning now shifts to the Citadel Open Ocean Challenge, starting at DUC at 9am next Sunday, 16 July.

Bay Union Open Ocean Challenge Series
Summary of Results – Bay Union Open Ocean Challenge
Long Course
1 Hank McGregor 56:31.13
2 Andy Birkett 56:38.88
3 Gene Prato 57:45.70
4 Wade Krieger 57:58.22
5 Bailey De Fondaumiere 58:05.01
6 Luke Nisbet 58:10.91
7 Linton Hope/Bruce Wenke 59:19.73 (1st Double)
8 Shaun Burgin/Donna Winter 59:34.51
9 Hamish Lovemore 1:00:08.52
10 Gavin Searle/Grant Smith 1:00:16.55
13 Stretch Struwig/Gordon Spalding 1:00:30.53
14 Jordan Clauson/Jacqui Boyd 1:00:36.55

1 Nikki Russell 1:03:38.53
2 Michelle Burn 1:04:18.78
3 Kyeta Purchase 1:05:10.92

Short Course
1 Joshua Giddings 34:28.54
2 Neil Greig/Ian Greig 36:38.85
3 Johann Terblanche 39:03.22
4 Garnett Wilson 39:08.13
5 Mhlengi Mngadi 39:30.77
6 Richard Hogg 39:44.88
7 Mark Barber/Jessica Erasmus 40:34.62
8 Don Gobey/Simone Gobey 40:38.92
9 Amy Peckett 40:46.68
10 Ayanda Dube 41:04.72

Remaining races:
Race 2 – 16 July Citadel Open Ocean Challenge
Race 3 – 23 July Geriatskis Open Ocean Challenge
Race 4 – 30 July Geriatskis Open Ocean Challenge

More information can be found at