South African surfski stars Hank McGregor and Hayley Nixon are on top of the world as they were confirmed as winners of the 2016 World Surfski Series titles after the Perth Doctor in Australia at the weekend.
Following McGregor’s impressive win in the Hong Kong Dragon run earlier in the month which assured the multiple-marathon world champion of his first World Surfski Series title, the 38-year-old went on to claim the Australian race’s spoils while Nixon took the women’s title from a strong field to secure a South African clean sweep of series honours.
For McGregor the win in Perth was particularly symbolic as he came into the event with the series title secured, but wanted to test himself against the best surfski paddlers in the world, and the Perth Doctor produced the biggest and best quality field of this year’s World Surfski Series to date.
Conditions conspired against the downwind specialists and the flat seas and 37 degree Celsius heat saw almost a quarter of the field elect not to start the 28-kilometre channel crossing from Rottnest Island to Sorrento Beach.
McGregor always guards against being drawn into races for hotspot prizes, which are a common, TV-friendly feature of major surfski races.
But when 5,000m world champion Kenny Wallace flew in for the race mainly to contest the hotspot, McGregor couldn’t resist the challenge and won the intermediate shootout from Wallace.
‘It was pride more than anything else,’ mused the Euro Steel/Epic Kayaks star. ‘I didn’t want to see the Marathon World Champ losing to the 5,000m World Champ!’
That gave McGregor the early lead, which was erased by drama midway through the race. ‘I was leading when we came to a ship that was crossing in front of us and the race officials insisted we stop and change course, which suddenly brought everyone back together, with Cory Hill, Dawid Mocké and a bunch of other top paddlers in the mix.
‘I had to totally reorganise my race strategy. There was a trig beacon about six kilometres from the finish that I made my next target and I had a small lead by that point. Then I had to lay it all out on the line and held on to win it from there.
‘It feels so satisfying to win against such a class field in the biggest race of its kind. It is also the best way to back up the Series title. This is the first time that I have had the time to go and challenge for the World Surfski Series title and I managed to get seven wins overall and four title race wins, which is really satisfying.’
For Nixon the Perth Doctor win and clinching the World Surfski Series title is a career highlight after a decade on international rowing, canoeing and now surfski racing. ‘I can’t stop grinning!’ said the bubbly Durbanite. ”This is my first world title ever and I am ecstatic!’
The Euro Steel/Carbonology Sport star said the mild conditions that confronted the big Perth Doctor field suited her perfectly. ‘I definitely prefer the smaller conditions where it is more technical and you have to work harder to catch the runs.
‘I had a clear goal to win the overall race but I felt I had a chance at the hotspot prize too, even though I was racing against really strong paddlers like Rachel Clarke, Tenealle Hatton and Nikki Russell.
‘However, coming up to the hotspot I was on Tenealle’s tailwave and I decided that I was happy to let her take it and stay focused on my overall race plan.
‘Four of us got to the front together, all flexing our muscles! I stuck to my race plan of keeping one particular building on the Perth skyline at one o’clock and just to trust my instinct.
‘I took the lead relatively early on and just followed the lead boat. The runs were small and there were a lot of chances for you to put your paddles down and relax. It was very hot out there but I enjoy that challenge and I felt comfortable.’
Nixon got to the central trig marker in the lead and was greeted by cheering supporters aboard support craft. ‘I suddenly thought “Flip, I might just do this and win the Doctor!” I kept looking back and saw that no one was coming at me.
‘Then about 500 metres from the finish the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I looked around to see Tenealle was sitting on my tail and I could see that she was charging.
‘I had a very quick chat to myself, telling myself that I have one chance and I have to race the 1,000m world record holder to the beach, or I give up,’ said Nixon.
The pair raced to the beach side by side on the same wave. ‘I managed to get a small bump that got me slightly ahead of her, and I just didn’t look back.’
Nixon hit the beach first and started the long run up the sand to the finish chute. ‘I had such wobbly legs by that stage, and I allowed myself one quick glance over my shoulder, convinced that Tenealle was coming for me, but she wasn’t there.
‘I was extremely happy and totally broken,’ she added. ‘I’ve never won an international title,’ she added. ‘I’ve always trained as hard as I can and dreamt of doing well on an international stage. To win in such a prestigious event against a field that contains people that have been my surfski idols feels incredible.’
She paid tribute to her Durban coach Linton Hope. ‘He had total confidence in me and I trusted him. I’m in shock at winning the World Surfski Series title; it’s not something that I thought I was going to do. I’m not the best surfski paddler in the world, but I do know that the reason I won was performing consistently,’ she concluded.
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