“Bloody Awesome!” – 2019 ICF Ocean Racing World Championships

Monday, 16 September 2019 11:31 | Written by 
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Danielle McKenzie, 2019 ICF Canoe Ocean Racing World Champion Danielle McKenzie, 2019 ICF Canoe Ocean Racing World Champion Credits: https://www.facebook.com/canoephotographycom-275720129167110/

I knew a few of the paddlers had done the course earlier in the week and… my goal was to sort of sit with them and see where their line was,” said newly crowned World Champion Danielle McKenzie. “I had no idea where I was going. As far as race plans go, I had absolutely nothing… Just go pretty hard from the start. Yeah, bloody awesome!”

Three Groups

Angie Le Roux is intimately familiar with these waters: she’s won the Breizh Ocean Race here every year except once since the inaugural race in 2010 – so when she heads offshore in a westerly wind, you can bet that it’s for good reason.

“I wanted to work right at the beginning,” she said, “to come back in the surf at the end.

“I also knew that going further out after 12km, we get the swell that goes around the island of Groix”.

400m to her left, a group had set off like rockets on the direct line – and a complete unknown (to me at any rate) was out front: Danielle McKenzie. Who? What? Was the name even correct? Teneale Hatton, Rachel Clarke and Georgia Laird (Aus), I could understand – but who was this McKenzie?

Further inshore, defending champion Hayley Nixon (RSA) lead another bunch. Almost a kilometer separated Le Roux on the outside from Nixon on the inside, a massive difference, especially so early in a race.

Women 4km

Tracking the women's race - 4km in 

Challenging, Technical Conditions

“It was pretty awful conditions,” said Nixon. “You couldn’t get into a rhythm and catch runs and put your paddles down. You had to work hard the entire time and if you could get a little bump, it would take you towards the beach and then you’d have to turn off it again.”

Nixon had also planned to head out to sea but, “As is the nature of a lifesaving style start, all the Kiwis and Aussies got off to a really thunderous pace from the start,” she said. “I don’t have that lifesaving background, so I was a little bit left behind.

“I worked the runs to close the gap, rather than red-lining it,” she said. But in order to work the runs, she found herself heading further inshore than she’d intended.

“It did work in my favor at first,” she said. “I took a much lower, much more direct line and closed the gap on them fairly soon until I was in line with Danielle and Teneale.”

Hayley Nixon

Defending Champion Hayley Nixon (RSA)

And so, the scene was set: Le Roux furthest out to sea, McKenzie blasting up the middle and Nixon leading a group inshore.

But which line would work best?

Le Roux was reveling in it: “I did have surf and glide all the way,” said Le Roux. “Not easy surf, but I’m used to paddling in such technical conditions, and I love it.”

Men’s Start

Shortly after the men’s start, that race too split up with Sean Rice (RSA), 2013 world champion, out to sea on a line similar to Angie Le Roux, while Hank McGregor (RSA) and defending champion Cory Hill (Aus) were about 100m inshore on the direct line. Hovering between Sean Rice and the others was Sean’s brother Kenny, dicing with Tom Norton (Aus).

Behind Sean Rice, a group of French paddlers were on the same line – confirmation that they too thought the outside was the way to go.

Sean Rice

Sean Rice won the first championships in 2013 - and took the 2019 title in a blistering race

Where to?

Newcomer Danielle McKenzie had a less sophisticated race plan. “A few of the paddlers had done the course earlier in the week,” she said. “My goal was to sit with them and see where their line was.”

But shortly after the start, feeling strong, she moved to the front and dropped the other women in the group.

“I think I had the best line,” she said. “It honestly felt like some paddles we do on the Gold Coast from Snapper back to the surf club, where you have to surf the runs but still make your way out to sea.”

“But,” she said afterwards, “I had no idea where I was going!

“Fortunately the boys started coming past at about 7ks,” she said. “I just jumped onto their line, which was a bit further out to sea than the girls were.”

The “boys” included McGregor, Kenny Rice and Cory Hill; Sean Rice was still out wide.

men 5km

Men's Race - 5km in

“I went my own line,” said a visibly exhausted Sean Rice afterwards, “At 10ks everyone came together, Hank, Cory, Kenny and myself and I was like, wow, this is gonna be a big one.

“I had to close my mind off and put in about 5km, the hardest I’ve done”

By now McGregor had dropped a few boat lengths back; Rice moved to the inside of the bunch, while Kenny Rice and Cory Hill were dicing it out side by side on the direct line to the finish.

“It was tough,” said Hill, “very much over your shoulder, but it was still pushing out some quick times. At the end of the day, you’ve still gotta be able to race!”

men 15km

Men's Race, 15km in

In the women’s race too, the outside groups had merged, Le Roux angling back to McKenzie’s line.

Nixon was still on the inside, and found herself approaching Roëlan Island, a tiny nature reserve 1.5km from the beach.

Women 15km

With 5km to go, Hayley Nixon approaches Roëlan Island

“In hindsight I was possibly a bit too close; there was quite a bit of refraction there and I saw my splits come down quite a bit for about two km.

“It would have been a waste of time to tack back out deep,” she said. “I was aware of Teneale behind me, but I’d lost sight of Dani from about the 7km mark in. I literally didn’t see another female paddler until the finish.”

Brutal Finish

By now the paddlers were physically exhausted.

“I bloody left it all on the course,” said a jubilant McKenzie afterwards. “I honestly was hurting so much with 5-7k to go. I had given it absolutely everything and I knew I just had to grind it out to the finish.”

“It was a super-physical race,” agreed Nixon. “About 2km from the finish, I was absolutely broken. You’d catch a run, but it would take you left, and you’d immediately have to tack back onto your original course, so it was quite frustrating.

Unsure whether she was racing for first place, but reasonably sure she was heading for a podium finish, Nixon suddenly saw “5, 6, 7 yellow bibs, the same color we were wearing, in front of me.

“I had this complete moment of terror where I thought, never mind racing for 1st or 2nd, I must be in 6th or 7th place! All these women must have taken a deeper line and I must have been in a current…”

Then she realized that she was looking at the junior boys who’d caught up – the men’s race had started only two minutes behind the women (instead of the briefed 6 minutes), leading to the confusion.

“Around the backline I saw the distinctive posture of Dani with her white hat running along the beach. The world champion position was gone, but I might still be in for second. So, I bolted as much as I could, sprinted up the beach.

“I knew when I saw that Dani had entered that she’d be good. She’s a highly, highly pedigreed lifesaver and ironman athlete.

“It’s a great sign for our sport to be attracting women of her caliber to our sport; our depth and numbers are only going to increase, so that’s really cool.

“To get second place is the next best thing you can ask for. I’m still pretty proud, I couldn’t have done anything else; I couldn’t have done anything better.”

Nixon crossed the line in 1:42:43, just over a minute behind McKenzie. Teneale Hatton came third and Angie Le Roux, the top European, in fourth.

McKenzie was ecstatic. “I think for me there was no pressure, so I could do what I liked,” she said. “I paddle in a spec ski back home, so the ocean ski felt like luxury too.”  McKenzie currently has no sponsor for long distance surfski racing and borrowed a Fenn Elite S to train with, “from a guy who wasn’t using it anymore.

“I would love to meet more people, just need someone to introduce me,” she added. “Ha!”

Sprint for second

Just behind Sean Rice, his brother Kenny and Cory Hill were dicing neck-and-neck for second place.  The younger Rice took it with a wave into the beach, leaving Hill in third position.

Kenny Cory

Kenny Rice and Cory Hill battle it out, wave for wave

Emotional Come Back

For Sean Rice, it was an emotional come back. “It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I won in 2013 and I’ve had ups and downs for those last years… Getting on top again, so much has changed in my life, yeah, it’s quite emotional. To have Kenny on the podium too, it’s just amazing!

“I’m very grateful, I’m a very lucky man.”

sean rice wins

Ecstacy for Sean Rice as he takes the 2019 World title 

A visibly shattered Cory Hill said, “To keep on that podium I’m pretty happy, but obviously losing a world title for the first time since 2015 hurts a little!

“But Sean’s a good mate and a good guy, so… He put it out there and he was tough, super, super-tough. He deserves it.”

Juniors and Under-23s

Although South Africa and Australia featured strongly, some notable results from other countries included:

  • Katriana Swetish (USA), 1st in the Junior women
  • Two French women in the top 5 Junior women (Claire Dewaste and Dina Bettaver)
  • Hector Henot (FRA), 2nd in U23 men
  • Jorge Enriquez Guiterrez (ESP), 2nd in Junior men, and Pablo St Mary (ESP), 4th in the Junior men

Other noteworthy results:

  • U23 winner Joshua Fenn (RSA) – 10th overall
  • Junior winner Uli Hart (RSA) – 16th overall

Uli Hart

South African Junior Uli Hart dominated his category, winning by over 4min

Summary Results

(Click here for the full official results)

Senior Men

PosLast NameFirst NameCountryTimeDifference
1 RICE SEAN RSA 1h27:44.99 0
2 RICE KENNETH RSA 1h28:22.25 +0:37.26
3 HILL CORY AUS 1h28:37.64 +0:52.65
4 MC GREGOR HANK RSA 1h28:51.96 +1:06.97
5 NOTTEN NICOLAS RSA 1h29:20.62 +1:35.63

Senior Women

PosLast NameFirst NameCountryTimeDifference
2 NIXON HAYLEY RSA 1h42:42.53 +1:12.61
3 HATTON TENEALE NZL 1h43:58.10 +2:28.18
4 LE ROUX ANGIE FRA 1h44:42.62 +3:12.70
5 BEAVITT BIANCA RSA 1h45:10.22 +3:40.30

Under 23 Men

PosLast NameFirst NameCountryTimeDifference
1 FENN JOSHUA RSA 1h32:36.21 0
2 HENOT HECTOR FRA 1h33:47.16 +1:10.95
3 HAVARD NOAH AUS 1h35:29.90 +2:53.69
4 KEELING MARK RSA 1h36:27.94 +3:51.73
5 NEALE NATHAN AUS 1h36:40.88 +4:04.67

Under 23 Women

PosLast NameFirst NameCountryTimeDifference
1 SMITH JEMMA AUS 1h44:30.76 0
2 MASSIE BRIANNA AUS 1h47:48.47 +3:17.71
3 PURCHASE KYETA RSA 1h49:53.61 +5:22.85
4 SINCLAIR GEORGIA AUS 1h51:52.34 +7:21.58
5 CLIFTON SAMALULU NZL 1h52:30.82 +8:00.06

Junior Men

PosLast NameFirst NameCountryTimeDifference
1 HART ULVARD RSA 1h34:03.41 0
2 ENRIQUEZ GUTIERREZ JORGE ESP 1h38:21.03 +4:17.62
3 FENN MATTHEW RSA 1h38:38.07 +4:34.66
4 ST MARY PABLO ESP 1h42:50.98 +8:47.57
5 REGAN BENJAMIN NZL 1h43:13.33 +9:09.92

Junior Women

PosLast NameFirst NameCountryTimeDifference
2 SHIPWAY-CARR JAZMIN AUS 1h59:57.88 +5:14.57
3 DEWASTE CLAIRE FRA 2h00:15.53 +5:32.22
4 BETTAVER DINA FRA 2h00:23.71 +5:40.40
5 BESTER KIRA RSA 2h00:42.01 +5:58.70

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