South Africa hung on by the skin of their teeth to claim a famous victory against Australia in the four-day Southern Shamaal International Surfski Challenge that finished in East London on Tuesday.
After being beaten by 45 minutes last year, a young South African team showed lots of spirit to turn the tables by a mere two minutes and 17 seconds.
Australia – lead by nine-times Molokai champion Dean Gardiner – started the final day more than six minutes down, but held their best for last to claw back the majority of lost time.
Both teams sent out their singles combinations first on today’s opening leg of 26 kilometres between Hamburg and Kidd’s Beach.
South Africa’s Richard von Wildemann (1:55:17) set the third fastest time to beat home his Australian counterpart, Ash Nesbit (1:55:20), by a mere three seconds.
The Transnationals’ Jasper Mocke (1:51:07) was quickest, followed by Team UAE’s Jonathan Crowe (1:55:02).
Both Australia and the Emirates team struggled to get out after the change-over, which gave South Africa the early advantage in the overall battle on the day’s second stage over 30 kilometres between Kidd’s Beach and Nahoon Beach.
Gardiner, however, showed why he is widely regarded as one of the best downwind paddlers in the world as he and partner Brendon Sarson quickly caught and passed the South Africans. Thereafter South Africa’s Barry Lewin and Bevan Manson could only hope to limit their losses.
The Aussies’ doubles combination (1:50:42) set the fastest time on the final stage, followed by South Africa (1:55:05) and South Africa B (1:57:51).
“Dean (Gardiner) is just too good in these conditions,” said a visibly tired Manson. “When they came past us, it felt like we were standing still. I thought we had lost it.”
Lewin was full of praise for Gardiner. “Today he showed everyone why he has won the Molokai nine times. He is an absolute master in these conditions.”
It was a major achievement for South Africa to come back from last year’s “clubbing”, Lewin admitted. “However, we really had to work hard in the final stretch after a rocky middle section.”
Gardiner said they had nothing to loose and everything to gain. “We decided to just go for it.
“We loved the conditions. Brendon (Sarson) had the power at the back and I simply had to catch the right lines.”
The Australians will feel that they may have lost an opportunity to make up more ground on the South Africans after day three between Hamburg and Port Alfred was cancelled due to poor visibility.
“We cannot blame the weather,” Gardiner said. “We made a few tactical mistakes on the opening day and that cost us.”
Gardiner said the South Africans’ paddled “strategically” very well and deserved the victory.
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