McGregor, Burn win Dolphin Coast in Massive Seas

Monday, 19 August 2019 08:41 | Written by  Gameplan Media
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Crossing the surf line, Day 1 of the Gara Dolphin Coast Challenge Crossing the surf line, Day 1 of the Gara Dolphin Coast Challenge Credits: Lynne Hauptfleisch

The two-day Gara Dolphin Coast Challenge is always demanding - but this weekend's event had exceptionally testing conditions, with massive surf on the first day and near gale-force winds and huge waves on the second.  

Day 1: Surf, no wind, Surf

With just three weeks to go to the surfski world championships the first day of the Gara Dolphin Coast Challenge saw two Durban-based world title contenders come to the fore on a day of high drama.

Starting at Pirates SLC in Durban the field of elite single ski paddlers had some big surf and then mild windless deep ocean conditions to deal with until they got to the stage finish at Umdloti where a huge backline decimated much of the field.

Day 1 course

Day 1: 20km from Pirates SLC to Umdloti 

"Couple on the Head"

Multiple marathon world champion Hank McGregor, who won last year's double ski championship race with Andy Birkett and who has made little secret of his deep burning desire to win the surfski world title in France next month raced largely alone to win the stage from Barry Lewin and Gene Prato.

McGregor was unusually slow through the surf at Pirates at the start but then set off solo on a line far out to sea, where he found a solid rhythm and made no mistakes coming in at Umdloti to post a solid two minute lead over Lewin and Prato.

"I didn't have the cleanest of starts!" said the Fenn/Euro Steel star. "I got a couple on the head which put me back to about fortieth at the start.

"I couldn't really see too many other people during the race and was chuffed to get to the beach at Umdloti first and make it in clean," he said.

"Then I could sit back with the other spectators and watch the entertainment as the swell picked up and the other paddlers tried to make it in in one piece."

Hank McGregor

Hank McGregor made no mistakes coming into Umdloti

Hayley Nixon

In the highly competitive women's race, reigning world champion Hayley Nixon got off to the worst possible start as she was smashed by a wave while paddling out at Pirates.

"It was just bad luck I guess," she said. "Five metres to my left and to my right there was no real wave but I got smoked and had a long swim with my ski.

"Luckily Brendon Delport also took as swim so we got going again right at the back and worked together to try and catch up," the Carbonology/Euro Steel athlete said.

She caught up to Michelle Burn and Nikki Birkett about a third of the way into the 19km stage, after which Burn decided to opt for a deeper line looking for bigger runs.  Nixon got ahead of Birkett, but had no idea where Burn was until she negotiated the big surf at Umdloti at the end of the stage.

"I made it through the big backline OK but took a little swim in the shore break and had to run up the beach, which is when I saw Michelle surfing a wave into the beach just behind me," said Nixon.

She added that she was pleased with her form at this key stage in her preparation for the world champs as she was coming off a very intensive week's training.

"What is so great about racing in Durban is that the field is so strong and it felt that today was as tough as the world champs is going to be," she said.


Clint Pretorius and Ryan Butcher were the first double ski combination into the finish at Umdloti, just ahead of the husband and wife crew of Brett and Danica Bartho.


Day 2

As Sunday dawned, WhatsApp sprang to life "We are moving the race to south Durban - out n back so pls head in that direction. Will confirm exact venue in a few minutes".

That message was followed by a video showing the surf at Salt Rock: the conditions were completely unplayable, unrelenting lines of 3m swell marching in at 14s intervals to smash the beach - and any surfski that might dare to venture out.

Day 2 Surf

Wind and waves

Hank McGregor had a two minute lead in the bank as he started the rejigged second stage from the Durban Undersea Club on a northerly out-and-back course set by the organisers after the North Easterly buster swept into the area overnight, whipping up big surf conditions.

day 2 start

After grinding impressively into the choppy headwind McGregor mastered the downwind leg back to the finish ahead of Barry Lewin in second and Gene Prato in third.

"It was a real challenge today, with the second biggest swell this year running," said McGregor.

"There were six of us together going up to the turn-can above the river mouth, and on the way home it was every man for himself," said the Fenn/Euro Steel star.

"I was able to get one or two runs ahead and win the second stage to get the win overall, which I am stoked about," added McGregor. "Well done to everyone that finished."

Day 2 course

Day 2 was moved down the coast and the course changed to a 14km out-and-back course

Collision, race over

In the women's race reigning world champ Hayley Nixon started with a twenty second overnight lead over Michelle Burn and just had to stay with her and the on-form Nikki Birkett to win the title.

Everything changed right at the start as they charged off the beach at DUC. In the choppy sea conditions another boat collided with her, she fell out of her ski, and the strong Easterly wind blew her ski away from her.

"It was my mistake," said Nixon afterwards. "I had my leash on my calf but I hadn't attached it to the boat. We usually do that once we are free of the chaos of the start and I hadn't done that yet as the pace was so competitive and we were about a kilometre into the race.

"It turned into a very long swim as my ski was blown away from me. Thankfully Lance Wyly saw it and intercepted it before he also fell out.

"I finally got back to the boat and then fell out again trying to remount, and my ski blew away again. By the time I managed to get back on I couldn't even see Nikki (Birkett) and Mich (Burn).

"It was a bad mistake and it cost me dearly," she added.

Michelle Burn

Michelle Burn

Michelle Burn, despite swimming at the turn, won the women's event overall

Nixon's swim left the door open for Michelle Burn, who admitted afterwards that she was lacking motivation going into the final day.

"I really wasn't keen on another out-and-back and my arms were feeling the first stage going into the headwind, it was really strong and wishy-washy and there were waves breaking everywhere.

"After the accident with Hayley (Nixon), Nikki (Russell) was some way ahead. I had a small swim at the turn-can, but luckily I got back into my boat quickly.

"I managed to string some runs together and finally spotted Nikki ahead of me as we came into the finish. I knew I had thirty seconds to play with and I put my head down and caught one or two massive runs," said Burn.

In her haste to get to the finish she paddled over Vetch's Reef and damaged her rudder. "I looked to my left and saw Nikki had a swim, so we both had mishaps right at the finish." said Burn.

"It was great that the women were so close to each other, which made it a great race," she concluded.

broken ski

One of the casualties...


Clint Pretorius and Ryan Butcher won the double ski race from the husband-and-wife duo of Brett and Danica Bartho.


Summary Results 

(Click here for the full results)

Singles - Men

PosNameDay 1Day 2Total
1 Hank McGregor 1:29:57.80 1:10:38.39 2:40:36.19
2 Barry Lewin 1:32:03.61 1:11:25.44 2:43:29.05
3 Gene Prato 1:32:31.17 1:11:22.10 2:43:53.27
4 Steve Woods 1:33:52.04 1:11:25.01 2:45:17.05
5 Tyron Maher 1:34:03.88 1:12:26.09 2:46:29.97
6 Herman Chalupsky 1:33:33.50 1:16:30.13 2:50:03.64
7 Keithley Burn 1:37:59.31 1:12:11.75 2:50:11.06
8 Quinton Rutherford 1:37:52.20 1:12:56.35 2:50:48.55
9 Oliver Burn 1:39:22.27 1:14:48.83 2:54:11.10
10 Daniel Jacobs 1:39:12.08 1:17:23.45 2:56:35.54

Singles - Women

PosNameDay 1Day 2Total
1 Michelle Burn 1:44:16.21 1:22:38.13 3:06:54.34
2 Nikki Birkett 1:44:43.05 1:22:56.49 3:07:39.54
3 Hayley Nixon 1:43:55.35 1:34:11.57 3:18:06.93
4 Sabina Lawrie 1:54:00.35 1:30:26.30 3:24:26.65


PosNamesDay 1Day 2Total
1 Clint Pretorius/Ryan Butcher 1:34:47.94 1:13:39.72 2:48:27.66
2 Brett Bartho/Danica Bartho 1:37:13.86 1:14:06.93 2:51:20.79
3 Malcolm Pitt/Brad Pearse 1:38:32.89 1:17:50.94 2:56:23.84
4 Ian Marais/Marc Descoins 1:39:34.31 1:18:33.12 2:58:07.44
5 Steaphan MacDonald/Craig Greenland 1:41:25.65 1:26:28.57 3:07:54.22
6 Grant Smith/Craig McIntosh 1:46:42.74 1:21:14.42 3:07:57.16
7 Gary Waud/James Tutton 1:45:38.07 1:25:43.22 3:11:21.30
8 Lee Furby/Malcolm Carey 1:45:38.55 1:25:50.04 3:11:28.59
9 Bruce Glenday/ Steve Pearson 1:49:02.23 1:26:11.89 3:15:14.12
10 Lyn Bennett/Quintus Van Der Merwe 1:52:47.42 1:27:01.56 3:19:48.99


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