eThekwini Lifeguards set the bar high in biggest-ever Four Elements Ocean Challenge

More than 130 daring participants have already signed up for the fourth annual Four Elements Ocean Challenge – the biggest entry yet – setting off from Durban Harbour on Saturday, 13 May. And proving their deep love of the Indian Ocean will be representatives from eThekwini’s lifeguard unit.


“We are really looking forward to the Four Elements Ocean Challenge which is always such a fun and well-run event,” said Thando Thusi, who has been involved with the eThekwini lifeguard unit, in various roles, for the past 18 years. “It provides us with a really great opportunity to actually interact with the public we’re dedicated to protecting on our home turf. This is one of the only 5km ocean swim challenges in the Durban area and it’s a really great event. We have such a fantastic coastline so it’s good for people to experience it during such a well-supervised event. Because it’s such a great cause, we’re willing to give of our time and it’s an overall fantastic initiative that makes people aware of our beaches and the need to look after them.”


Thusi said there was often the misconception that lifeguards spent their time relaxing on the beach, when the reality is very different.


“Becoming a lifeguard is not an easy process and we train in the ocean daily to keep fitness levels up and check the safety conditions,” he explained. “Sanele Nxumalo, one of our lifeguards, has placed in the top three previously, showing that we’re not just competing for fun, we’re out there for podium places. It will be great to show what we have on the day.”


Describing the Four Elements Ocean Challenge as ‘one of the most important races of the year’, Sanele Nxumalo – who placed second in 2015 and third in 2016 – is looking forward to competing for first prize this year.


“It’s a great swimming course and the race is all about ocean conservation,” said Nxumalo. “For someone who spends every day on the beach, this is something I am passionate about. It’s important for people to be taught the importance of conservation and Durban beachfront, which is one of the country’s most iconic sites, is the perfect setting for this.”


Nxumalo, who is three-time Lifeguard Endurance Champion, winner of 2016 Miway Surf Swim competition and Lifesaving Ironman as well as a silver medallist winner in the senior men’s surf swim category at the SA Stillwater Nationals, said lifeguards were always excited for any surf sport-related event.


“It’s exciting to have a number of newcomers from the lifeguard fraternity joining us on the swim this year,” he said. “They’re all very fit so should put up a good fight.”


To celebrate the eThekwini Lifeguards, Four Elements will be introducing a new prize category this year with prizes awarded to the first three professional eThekwini lifeguards who complete the 5km swim. Sanele Nxumalo is certainly a favourite but he will be chased hard by Thando Thusi and Lucky Mabuya, all of whom could be in the mix to place in the open section of the race.


“We really wanted to honour the unsung heroes who have made a professional career out of looking after visitors to Durban’s warm beaches,” said CEO of Four Elements, Olivia Taylor. “However, the event is not just about winning prizes, it’s about a group of committed swimmers celebrating our fragile and beautiful ocean in anticipation of World Oceans Day on 8 June, and raising funding to educate young environmental entrepreneurs.”


Taylor, who is currently a student at the University of Stellenbosch, established Four Elements Conservation NPC – a non-profit environmental preservation organisation – five years ago, at the age of 14. The Four Elements Ocean Challenge is one of the NPC projects that raises funds for, and awareness about, ocean conservation with a particular focus on World Oceans Day. Funds raised from this year’s swim will go towards the launch of an online education programme focusing on environmental entrepreneurship for youth.


The Four Elements Ocean Challenge will start between 7am and 7.30am on 13 May with swimmers setting off from the harbour wall. They will trace a course over Vetch’s Reef and along all the piers of the Durban beachfront, finishing at Bike and Bean at Country Club Beach. Conditions look favourable but the course direction can change on the day to ensure swimmers’ safety.


Four Elements Ocean Challenge 2017 swimmers to watch out for:

Kadence Ribbink: Youngest entrant at 11 years. Her sisters, Kayla and Kira, were the youngest entrants in previous years.
Charles van der Spuy: Oldest entrant at 63 years.
Julian Taylor: Former national swimming and surf-lifesaving captain as well as a frequent winner of the event.
Sarah Ferguson: Former international pool swimmer who is preparing to swim the mammoth 42km Ka’iwi island crossing in Hawaii.
Tatum and Connor Botha: The brother/sister team set to compete in the junior rankings.
Sasha-Lee Nordengen-Corris:  International open water swimmer and South African lifesaver. She’s a strong contender in the ladies’ open race.
Alice Edward: International surf-lifesaving competitor.
Helen Lucre: Multiple Comrades Marathon champion and an accomplished swimmer.
Wendy Fabian and Heather Campbell: Both world-ranked masters’ swimmers.
Greg Hamilton: This ex-KwaZulu-Natal rugby player will be keeping the sharks at bay.
John McCarthy: Well-known surfer, free-diving guide and environmentalist, McCarthy will be swimming in board shorts, as usual.
The entry donation of R375 per swimmer includes a cap and T-shirt in the male or female open, 30 to 49 years, 59 years and over categories. The Four Elements Ocean Challenge is designed to test the toughest swimmers so, although wetsuit swimmers are permitted, they are not eligible for prizes.