PE2EL - the most Challenging yet?

Friday, 05 April 2013 07:23 | Written by  Gavin Dickinson and Rob Mousley
Rate this item
(24 votes)
The paddlers contemplate the surf at the start of day 2 The paddlers contemplate the surf at the start of day 2

The 2013 Port Elizabeth to East London Challenge is already the stuff of legend: after carnage at the finish of day 1 at Woody Cape, nly two paddlers made it out through the surf at the start of day 2, the rest opting to trek up to 20km up the beach to find kinder launch sites!  And the race is only half done!

The PE2EL Challenge

For those who don’t know it – the race (held for the last 40 years) takes the paddlers 250km over 4 days from Port Elizabeth to East London in South Africa along some of the most beautiful, but harshest coastline in the world. 

Day 1 – Woody Cape

The first day of the race is the longest: nearly 75km from Blue Water Bay to the notorious Woody Cape.  Over the years Woody Cape has been the graveyard of many a surfski but the last few events saw small conditions that belied the Cape’s ferocity.  Not this year.

24 skis started with a large ground swell running and a fair SW wind. The Blue Water Bay beach break claimed Justin Swaart and Marcell Basson's rudder and they set off in a borrowed ski.

The paddlers were briefed that the Woody Cape was recording 5m swells - little did they know that for once the web sites were under reading the swell size. 

Woody Cape was utterly insane.

15 - 20ft sets were rolling in as the paddlers were coming home.

Race leader Bevan Manson was first in avoiding two massive waves and making it to the shore break. What followed was carnage.

Eight skis were broken, some utterly disintegrated to nothing - leaving paddlers with 30min swims against the rip current.

Woody Cape

Paddle boys, paddle!

Woody Cape


Ok, time to swim - but look at the size of those waves...

Woody Cape


Still swimming...

All the competitors eventually dragged themselves to the finish - other than John de Smit and Craig Webster who had to retire after de Smit’s back flared up earlier in the day.

Day 2

The race team agreed to view the surf at 06.30 for Day 2 and agree the start location.

PE2EL 2013

The paddlers contemplate the surf on the morning of day 2.  Looks ok, doesn't it?  Only - check out the size of the people to the right bottom of the photo - and then compare them to the size of the waves

The surf was 6 - 8ft and clean. It was agreed the start was going to be the Woody beach. Demanding - but doable if you were patient, lucky and blessed.

The paddlers reserved their right to run down the beach in search of a kinder launch area.

23 skis started and 16 tried to make it through the surf, while the rest ran the beach.

Only Bianca Beavitt and 'Coffee' Maclagan made it out. Others tried and tried... Hein Van Rooyen tried for 40 min and almost made it, but eventually surrendered to run 10km down the beach.

Woody Cape

Do I go or do I stay?  (Do I have any choice in the matter?!)

Woody Cape


One got out and one did not.  (You can just see the head of the paddler who popped over the wave)

Woody Cape


...and what can you do when faced with that?!  Maybe walking is not such a bad idea!

Most paddlers walked to up to 16km Bokness or Cannon Rocks and set off through massive surf.

The Kenton check-in stop was dropped due to surf breaking from 500-600m out to sea, and the paddlers were sent on to Port Alfred.

At Port Alfred the paddlers had to negotiate a solid 8ft beach break, which offered some very long swims. Bianca Beavitt, lucky with her launch earlier in the day, swam for 20min to reach the beach. Herbert Conradie and his partner were unlucky to smash into the pier and wreck their 2nd double of the race.

Last paddlers in were Jamie Hamlin & Peter King who made the beach with 15min daylight to spare. A very long day after an 8.35 start - coming home in 9hrs 20min.

Day 3

Day 3 is Port Alfred Hamburg at 72km. The 1st guys are off at 8am. Surf is 6ft and wind is a mild westerly. Only 17 skis are left in The Challenge.

 Wojtek Osk is leading the singles and Keith Theron and Jason Kalogeropoulos the doubles.

Course Notes

Day 1

Blue Water Bay Surf Lifesaving Club to Woody Cape Beach

Paddle distance: 75 km

Paddle Time for winners: 5 1/2 hours

Woody Cape is notorious for its huge surf…  It hasn’t fired for the last three years but it features at the forefront of the paddlers’ thoughts – imagine paddling 75km only to smash your ski on the way in to the beach.  And worse – you lie in your tent listening to the boom of the waves, knowing that next morning you have to go out through it…

Day 2

Woody Cape Beach to Port Alfred

Paddle distance: 53 km

Paddle Time for winners: 4 hours

The last 5km of this day sees rogue breakers that rear up unexpectedly well out to sea – catch the waves and you’re flying; get it wrong and you’re swimming, potentially with a broken boat.  And you still have to negotiate a substantial shore break and rip currents to get to the finish.

Day 3

Port Alfred to Hamburg

Paddle distance: 68 km

Paddle Time for winners: 5 ½ hours

This is the toughest day in the race.  Both physically – the paddlers are all tired, no matter who they are – and the end is not yet in sight.  Day 4 is much easier – it’s shorter and the end is just around the corner…  Day 3 is a mind bender.

And there’s surf!  A point break can provide a ride all the way into the beach – sometimes though, it closes out from the right and drives you onto the rocks.

Day 4

Hamburg to East London (Orient Beach)

Paddle distance: approx 62 km

Paddle Time for winners: 4 to 5 hours

Getting out at Hamburg can be fun; just when you think you’ve got over the back line, a rogue set can come through to take you back to the start…  Start over, do not pass Go.


At the pointy end of the race the tactics usually dictate preservation of energy for most of the day – with a break away from the group towards the end of the leg.  Put a two or three minute lead in and then keep by sticking with the bunch the next day.  But of course a 40min swim in the surf changes everything!

For the majority of the paddlers, camaraderie is the name of the game – you’ve been training up to 15hrs a week with the same group and it’s all about grinding out the kilometers.  Form a diamond, stick with it, take your turn.  Every couple of hours stop and have a picnic.  Wait on the beach until the last man is in...  The traditions are many and well ingrained.

Everything of course depends on the weather.  Most years there's a mixture of everything: flat calm, headwinds and, with any luck, some downwind.  This year so far, the surf has been the dominant factor.

Results so far

1st Name 1Surname 11st Name 2Surname 2Total Race Time
Wojtek Osk     11:43:10
Duncan Boyd     11:46:59
Bevan Manson     11:48:08
Justin McCalgan     11:55:52
Hein Van Rooyen     12:29:04
Bianca Beavitt     13:29:42
Daantjie Malan     13:38:40
Fanta Gous     14:53:20
Peter King     16:10:01
Jamii Hamlin     16:22:55
Luke Mcnish     16:49:05
Keith Theron Jason Kalogeropoulos 12:44:38
Robbie Bester Ralph Teulings 13:30:47
Neil Stevenson Stef Le Roux 13:58:05
Herman Wessels Mias VD Westhuyzen 14:31:06
Herbert Conradie Nico Redelinghuys 14:46:59
Dave Puttergil Adam Fraser 15:25:02
Dave Schafer Chris Batting 15:27:16
Marcus Burri Stanford Slabbert 16:25:02
Alex Midlane Patrick Whitflield 16:45:33
Johan Van Rooyen Inus Van Rooyen 17:22:20
Michael Baker Adie De Kock 17:22:24
Justin Swart Marcel Basson 18:08:23
John De Smit Craig Webster 19:29:00

Latest Forum Topics