Tough Freedom Paddle Race in South Africa

Thursday, 27 April 2023 18:42 | Written by  Gameplan Media
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Hank McGregor and Joshua Fenn on their way to the 2023 Freedom Paddle title Hank McGregor and Joshua Fenn on their way to the 2023 Freedom Paddle title Credits: John Hishin and Graham Daniel

CAPE TOWN - Hank McGregor and Josh Fenn convincingly claimed back their Prescient Freedom Paddle title on Thursday in a dramatic race marked by tough conditions and a rain-delayed start.  Conditions were extremely tough - a brisk northwester blowing spray from the big confused chop into the paddlers' faces as they headed out to the island.  Huge breaking surf on the far side of the island ensured a wide line but the wind dropped as the fleet started on the journey back to the finish, making it that much more difficult and energy sapping to catch the runs.  

McGregor and Fenn swept around the 27km course from Green Point's Oceana Power Boat Club, around Robben Island and back to beat defending champion Andy Birkett, paddling with Uli Hart this year.

The veteran Cape Town pair of Jasper and Dawid Mocké finished third in spite of taking an unscheduled swim as they rounded Robben Island, where the paddlers had to negotiate some massive, breaking waves.

The woman's race was won by the Durban pairing of Michelle Burn and Saskia Hockly, who expertly utilised the downwind swell on the way back to the finish to come home ahead of Candice Murray and Kira Bester.

2023FP Michelle Burn Saskia Hockly

Michelle Burn and Saskia Hockly on their way to claim the Women's Title

The organisers of the prestigious annual Freedom Day surf-ski race had earlier delayed the start by an hour because of poor visibility as a sharp wind blew a rain squall across Table Bay. But conditions had improved considerably within that time, with some sunshine even appearing as the wind eased off.

Both the men's and women's races were decided on the downwind run home as paddlers rode swells pushing them towards the finish.


But even before the downwind section, disaster struck for the hotly-tipped pair of Kenny Rice and Clinton Cook.

"It was about 10 to15 minutes after the start," recalled Cook. "We were five boats in a line and we were the fourth boat. It was quite choppy and nobody's fault, but when our tail went down their front (the boat immediately behind) came up and basically put a hole through our boat.

"I jumped out to have a look and said to Kenny that we are not going to make it around the Island ... we'd probably have sunk half way there."

As they limped home, the four other leading boats were rounding Robben Island, where misfortune struck the veteran Mocké brothers.

"We had a bit of a mishap at the back (of Robben Island) ... we took a swim," said Dawid. "A wave clipped us and we capsized and then we were in a solid fourth place, so we had to put the hammer down after that."

He added that the conditions around the back of the island were "probably the biggest I have seen on that side".

2023FP Start

The Start: The paddlers faced a gruelling grind out to Robben Island into a brisk northwester.

As the leaders turned for home McGregor and Fenn made their break.

"Just after the Island Hank said "it's time", and I guess that was the go signal and we put the hammer down from there," recalled Fenn.

2023FP McGregor Fenn

McGregor and Fenn - ramping the oncoming swell on the way out to the island

Birkett said he had enjoyed the testing conditions -- it was a "great experience". He added that "Hank and Josh were in a league of their own coming back. As soon as we left the island on the way back they just left all of us."

McGregor recalled: "There were four boats going around the island together. Once we got around to the wild side the surf was big -- but it was fantastic. We managed to put our nose ahead from there on the top side of the island and smoked it on the way home.

"This is our third win together, so we are really stoked."

2023FP leaders

Rounding the island - the lead group L-R: Notten/Fenn, McGregor/Fenn, Mocke brothers, Hart/Birkett

Women's Race

The women's race panned out in similar fashion, although Burn and Hockly waited a bit longer before making their decisive break.

Burn said: "Going into the headwind on the way out was hard work. We are very light so we get thrown around a lot. By the time I got to the island I was pretty tired but thankfully I love the runs and coming home was pretty awesome. We worked really hard."

They had, however, to overcome a "terrible start", and Hockly said it turned out to be "one of the hardest races we have ever done."

"Michelle's skill is unbelievable and being able to sit behind her while she navigated the island was such a pleasure. The start wasn't really great ... we were the last boat to leave the line."

They caught the other leading women at Robben Island. "Then it was classic dicing with Candice and Kira but at the end we managed to pull away," said Hockly.

A total of 410 paddlers took part in the day's various events on 258 boats.

Selected Results

(Full results, subject to corrections: Prescient Freedom Paddle 2023)

1 Hank Mcgregor and Joshua Fenn,
2 Ulvard Hart and Andy Birkett,
3 Jasper Mocke and Dawid Mocke.

1 Michelle Burn and Saskia Hockly,
2 Candice Murray and Kira Bester,
3 Jade Wilson and Nix Birkett.

1 Melanie Van Niekerk and Scheepers Schoem,
2 Ian Trautmann and Stephanie Von Der Heyd,
3 Angie Austin and Craig Flanagan.

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