Hayley Nixon wins 2017 ICF Ocean Racing World Championships in Hong Kong

Saturday, 18 November 2017 10:24 | Written by 
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The lead paddlers approach the Kissing Whales, 2/3 of the way into the race The lead paddlers approach the Kissing Whales, 2/3 of the way into the race

After a week of monsoon winds and rough seas, race day arrived with the worst possible conditions for the 3rd ICF Ocean Racing World Championships – windless, flat and muggy… Capricious Mother Nature!  But in racing, you work with what you get, and at least the flat seas offered some reassurance to the less experienced among the competitors.


Surfski as a sport has seen massive growth in the last five years, as evidenced by the relatively large women’s field of 45 paddlers from some 16 nations: Australia, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Portugal, Samoa, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tahiti and the USA.

Southern Hemisphere

The favourites were from the southern hemisphere: defending champion Teneale Hatton (NZ), Rachel Clarke (NZ) and the South Africans Michele Burn, Hayley Nixon and Nikki Russell with Olympic sprinter Bridgitte Hartley.

Start to Ninepin Group

At the lifesaving-style start, Teneale Hatton (her surf lifesaving pedigree showing) surged straight into the lead; on the flat calm protected water of Clearwater Bay, the field immediately formed a line of slipstreaming boats, Hatton pulling at the front.

The start

Teneale Hatton leads the pack

A $500 hotspot prize was on offer for the first competitor around the Ninepins turn point, presenting a dilemma: do you paddle hard for the hotspot, knowing that it’s only about a quarter of the way into the race?

Hatton, her teammate Rachel Clarke and South African Nikki Russell pulled away from a second group of four South Africans: Hayley Nixon, Michele Burn, Bridgitte Hartley and Jenna Ward.

Dragon Run Course 700px

Ninepins to Kissing Whales

As the field rounded Ninepins, the groups that had been nose-to-tail exploded as the paddlers tried to find the optimum line for the downwind section. 

Within a few minutes, Hayley Nixon had put the hammer down and had taken the lead on an inside line to the right of the rest of the paddlers.

The tactical challenge: how much energy do you conserve?  The 10.5km downwind leg is followed by a flat 5km grind into the finish at Stanley Beach.  “If you only have 10% left at Kissing Whales,” said ex-champion Michele Eray, “it’s a very long 5km!”

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Hot, humid, flat conditions

At this point the paddlers were going at close the speed of the wind, in humid, 26C conditions – gruelling!

And in these conditions, to harness the energy in the little waves, you have to go all out to accelerate and catch them…  If you don’t, the paddlers around you will drop you; if you do, you’re facing heat and fatigue…

“For anyone who hasn’t done this sport… or who’s transferred to this sport from flat water racing,” said commentator (and Olympic Sprint Champion) Ivan Lawler, “you have no idea how difficult it is to read this water. What you and I would see as a random series of bumps, these guys see… a conveyer belt of waves helping them, and that’s why flat water paddlers really don’t feature in these races.”

As the Kissing Whales loomed into view, it was clear that Michelle Burn’s wider line seemed to have paid off.

Inevitably, as the field approached the turning point, the paddlers fell back into line: Nixon, Burn, Hatton each paddlng on their own and a closer group comprising Hartley, Russell and Clarke.  

Nixon and Burn at the Kissing Whales

Hayley Nixon and Michelle Burn on the Stanley side of the Kissing Whales.

Final 5km

The final grind to the finish saw Hayley Nixon and Michele Burn maintaining their positions while Teneale Hatton sprinted to third place.

The final shots of the live video transmission showed a mixture of exhaustion and exhilaration on the athlete’s faces as they cooled off in the water.  Congratulations to the 2017 ICF Ocean Racing World Champions…!

(Given the excellent weather forecast for the men's race tomorrow, a case could be made for having a two-day window period with the men's and women's races run on the same day, but perhaps 30min or an hour apart...   but many of the skis are being shared and used in both races.)

Interview with Champion Hayley Nixon

Summary Results:

(Click here for the full results

Open Women

  1. Hayley Nixon (RSA): 1:55:23
  2. Michelle Burn (RSA): 1:55:39
  3. Teneale Hatton (NZ): 1:56:14

Under 23

  1. Linnea Stensils (SWE): 2:00:49
  2. Kyeta Purchase (RSA): 2:04:15
  3. Laury Sainte Mairie (FRA): 2:09:02

Under 18

  1. Sabina Lawrie (RSA): 2:05:23
  2. Georgia Sinclair (AUS): 2:06:31
  3. Zara Wood (RSA): 2:18:27

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