Team South Africa rallied on the second stage of day one to take the overall lead after the first day of the Southern Shamaal International Surfski Challenge between Port Elizabeth and East London.

The home team’s overall time of 3:14:42 left them about two and a half minutes clear of Australia (3:17:13), the defending champions. South Africa B (3:20:22) is in third.

The relay event, renowned as the longest and toughest in the world, is contested over 240 kilometres and four days.

The first stage took place over 22 kilometres between Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea and the second over 30 from Kenton-on-Sea to Woody Cape.

All the international teams made the tactical decision to send their single skis out first, leaving the doubles to battle it out towards the end.

Australia’s Brendon Sarson gave the defending champions the early advantage, finishing just ahead of South Africa B’s Tom Schilperoort with South Africa A’s Richard von Wildemann third fastest.

South Africa A’s double combination – consisting of captain Barry Lewin and Bevan Manson – made the best use of the four to five feet swell to draw even with Australia’s Ash Nesbit and Dean Gardiner within the first three kilometres of stage two.

With an easterly – which gusted at between 20 and 30 knots – pushing them along, they never looked back and extended their lead to more than two minutes at the finish.

“The wind created an amazing open ocean swell,” an elated Lewin said. “It was the best conditions I’ve seen in a long time.”

Lewin was full of praise for his partner. “Bevan’s strength helped me pull over most of the big runs, which was key to our success. He was an absolute beast today.

“Our combinations worked well in the conditions and if the wind carries on blowing, we’re likely to use the same tomorrow. We’ll aim to open up the gap on the Australians.”

A gale force wind is predicted for day two and therefore tomorrow’s stages will be combined into one with the singles and doubles leaving at the same time. The start is at Port Alfred at 10am.

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