WITH their sights firmly set on the upcoming World Marathon Champs K2 title, Hank McGregor and Andy Birkett delivered a masterclass to claim the two-day 43km Gara Dolphin Coast Challenge title on Sunday.
The Euro Steel/Fenn pair banked a tidy two minute overnight lead on the first stage from Pirates SLC in Durban to uMdloti and then more than doubled their lead on the final leg from Salt Rock to uMdloti on Sunday, earning them the KZN double ski title in the process.
McGregor and Birkett, who are currently the number one and two ranked flatwater marathon paddlers in the world, have struck up a successful K2 combination and friendship that has taken them to the FNB Dusi crown and the SA Marathon K2 title among several others in recent months.
“It was the perfect way to wrap up our preparations for the World Champs. Racing surfski really helps to mix up the training and keep it fun, so the race suited us perfectly,” beamed McGregor.
Birkett is a relative surfski novice when compared to McGregor, and revelled in the fast downwind conditions on Sunday.
“Andy was whooping and yodelling on some of the big runs, so it was really great to share that together,” said McGregor.
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The race was held in tricky blown-out conditions on the first stage and in superb following seas on the final stage, with the final stage start at Salt Rock proving to be a formidable obstacle, as the crunching shore break took its toll on many of the surfski crews. Luke Nisbet and Gene Prato finished in second, and Herman Chalupsky and Colin Simpkins in third.
The women’s race fell impressively to the combination of the current women’s surfski world champion Hayley Nixon and her young partner Christie Mackenzie, holding off a spirited charge from Nikki Birkett and Sabina Lawrie, who actually got to the final stage finish before the winners, thanks to the reversed order start of the second stage.
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