Durban’s Hank McGregor will be the odds-on favourite when South Africa’s top paddlers take to the Indian Ocean for the first ever World Series-rated Nelson Mandela Bay Surf Ski Classic at this weekend’s MTN Nelson Mandela Bay Splash Festival in Port Elizabeth.

McGregor, the current leader of this global series, says even though he is currently on top form, anything can happen on the day. “Conditions play a huge role in surf ski and the winner always deserves to have won.”

After multiple world champion Oscar Chalupsky’s late withdrawal due to injury, McGregor’s biggest threats will, according to him, be Cape Town’s David Mocke and PE’s Richard von Wildemann.

Von Wildemann, who is returning to his best condition after dislocating his shoulder during the latter part of last year, says he sees himself as a “dark horse”. “Local knowledge will play a huge part, especially in terms of the prevailing winds and currents.”

According to Michael Zoetmulder, the festival’s watersport coordinator, paddlers should also keep an eye out for local boy Andrew Skouno. “He has been focusing on this race and he may very well snatch a podium position.”

Others to watch include Durbanites Brett Bartho and Grant van der Walt, the world junior kayak champion.

In the women’s division, Olympian Michèle Eray (Plettenberg Bay) and winner of last year’s Dubai Shamaal – the richest surf ski event in the world – is the experts’ firm favourite.

Zoetmulder says he will be “very surprised” if Eray is toppled on the day, even though the likes of Tiffany Kruger (Durban), Kirsten Wessels (PE) and Natalie le Grange (Durban) will be under the starter’s orders.

Eray, who will compete in Spain just after this event, says she expects to get a run for her money from several Cape Town and Durban girls.

The race, over a distance of between 20 and 30 kilometres, starts at 11am on Friday and ends at Hobie Beach. The start location will be determined on Thursday evening based on the wind predictions to ensure that at least 60 percent of the race is downwind.

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Coetzee Gouws
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MTN Nelson Mandela Bay Splash Festival