Cape Town Paddling Festival

Saturday, 17 August 2013 14:15 | Written by 
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Rounding Cape Point Rounding Cape Point

Three great races, two weeks of downwind paddling with some of the best surfski paddlers in the world, including the 2013 Ocean Racing World Champion, all in the spectacular mother city of Cape Town in mid-summer.  C’mon, you’d be crazy to miss it.

Just a little biased

Ok, so this is my back yard and I’m just a little crazy about living – and paddling – here.  But it truly is one of the best places in the world to be on the water.  In summer we have more or less constant southeasters – and we have half a dozen world-class routes to take full advantage of it.

My favorite of course is the famous Millers Run; I love it because the conditions are always different – and challenging.  Achieve a fast Millers Run and you can cope with any conditions anywhere in the world.  But we have plenty of other downwind runs both inside False Bay and out on the open Atlantic Ocean. 

The Venue

Festival HQ is the Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club – the perfect venue, situated on the beach in Fish Hoek Bay.  All the races finish at the club; skis are stored there and the daily downwind shuttle goes from there.

(It’s an awesome club – South African champion surf lifesaving club for the last couple of years, it has an incredibly dynamic membership.)

The Races

Butlers Pizza Peter Creese Lighthouse Race

The Paddling Festival kicks off on Sunday, 8 December with the Peter Creese Lighthouse race.  Although relatively short (just 10km), this can be a tough race.  It’s traditionally held no matter the weather and last year we had a proper 30kt southeaster blowing. 

2012 Lighthouse Race

Heading upwind - 2012 Peter Creese Lighthouse Race

The challenge is that only half of this race is downwind!  You paddle out of Fish Hoek Bay straight into the southeaster out to Roman Rock lighthouse, and back again.  The second half is also the second half (the best half!) of the Millers Run – but you’ve got to get to the lighthouse first.

2012 Lighthouse Race

Rounding the lighthouse - proper southeaster blowing!  2012 Peter Creese Lighthouse Race

And when you get there, it’s best to leave a wide berth between you and the rocks.  Last year I thought I was the Man – I cut the corner and was scooped off my ski by a breaking wave, and had to swim the boat past the rocks, losing about 3min on the guys around me and giving the rescue team grey hairs…. Not a good move!  (Aka give the lighthouse a wide berth…)

Pizza and beer on the house when you get back to the club.

Cape Town Downwind Race

Depending on the weather, the Downwind Race will take place either on Sunday 15 December, or Monday (public holiday) 16 December.  The non-race day will see a fun surf lifesaving round-the-cans knockout.  (I say “fun” but there’s R20K on offer, so the guys will be taking it seriously.)

2012 Downwind Race

Nikki Mocke and Michele Eray dicing in the 2012 Cape Town Downwind

The downwind race starts in front of a sheltered beach just before Millers Point; the route takes you 3km upwind and then it’s roughly 14km downwind to Fish Hoek.  (2.5km into the downwind leg you’re on… the Millers Run!)

Hank McGregor

Hank McGregor won the 2012 downwind race!

Cape Point Challenge

21 December, 6am sees the first batch of paddlers set off to tackle the mighty Cape of Storms…

At about 8h15 you arrive at Cape Maclear, around 4km from Cape Point itself – the scenery is breath taking; 1000ft sheer cliffs plunging into the sea…  As you round the point, take a look up at the lighthouse perched on the ridge half way up the rock face and take away an image in your mind that you’ll never forget.

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Take the time to stop for a moment and look up - 2011 Cape Point Challenge

The Cape Point Challenge is one of the oldest races in the world.  Started to “fill in” the years between the biennial PE to EL Challenge, it has become a classic in its own right.


It’s a tough race, make no mistake.  50km, rough water, half is guaranteed to be into wind.  But the scenery is truly spectacular and the sense of achievement (and imminent proximity to a cold beer) when you hit the beach in Fish Hoek is indescribable.

A month or so before the race, qualifying races take place all over South Africa – 35km long, you need to be able to finish within a specified time in order to take part in the CPC.  The reason?  For safety’s sake, the organizers must be confident that the participants not only can reach Cape Point, but can reach there at roughly the right time. In starting the paddlers in batches, the aim is to have everyone arrive at Cape Point together, which simplifies the safety plan.

A few extra incentives…

On 12 December, The Rice Brothers, Mocke Brothers, Simon Van Gysen, Tom Schilperoort, Nikki Mocke and Alexa Cole will be hosting a Downwind Clinic.  These are some of the best exponents of downwind paddling in the world; this truly is “Downwind with the Champions”!  (Cost: R275).

The organizers of the MOC are offering 2 x accommodation and entry to the 2014 race; if this event isn’t on your bucket list – it should be.  This lucky draw will take place after Cape Point.

And finally – there’s a package deal for the festival period (9-20 December) for Millers Runs.  Busses and trailers will be leaving Fish Hoek at 3pm every day – book your place on your festival entry form (R250 for the two weeks).

And when we’re not on the water?

If you really have had enough paddling, well, you’re in Cape Town!  There’s a ton of stuff to do – from hiking the mountains around Fish Hoek, to visiting Cape Point Nature Reserve, Table Mountain, The V&A Waterfront, Simonstown…  and you’ve not even left the city yet.  There’s a reason, actually a multitude of reasons why Cape Town is the most visited city in South Africa!

Silvermine Waterfall

Hike to the Silvermine Waterfall!  (There are hiking trails all over the mountains in the Cape Peninsular

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Buffels Bay - Cape Point Nature Reserve.  (This is an awesome spot for an early morning breakfast)

Wreck Hike, Cape Point Nature Reserve


The Wreck Trail - Cape Point Nature Reserve

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