Top names already signed up for the inaugural Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge

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Forming part of the Ocean Festival celebration in commemoration of World Oceans Day is the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge taking place in Scottburgh on Sunday, 11 June. Entries for this exciting contest sponsored by Leatherback Rum are now open, with some of the sports’ top paddlers already signed up, among them Hank McGregor, Kenny Rice, and Michelle Burn.

Russel Symcox, Event Organiser, explained that the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge is an incredible addition to the Ocean Festival sporting activities, with R50 000 in prize money up for grabs – making it the most lucrative surfski event in the province!

“We’re hoping to bring paddlers from all over the country to Aliwal Shoal to celebrate World Ocean’s Day [8 June]. The event will get going from Scottburgh, which is a key coastal area, with paddlers getting to experience Aliwal Shoal, a Marine Protected Area [MPA] that forms a vital ocean space, protecting marine habitats while supporting ocean life. We’re also excited to be based out of the incredible Premier Cutty Sark Hotel which has provided us with the space and support to bring this free ocean paddling to the festival.”

Barry Lewin, the Race Director, commented: “I am really excited to be bringing the paddling community together to celebrate our oceans as part of the Ocean Festival with this new addition to the race calendar combining an amazing stretch of coastline with a Marine Protected Area. The Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge is bringing some of the best paddlers in the world to showcase their skills on the KZN South Coast. It’s going to be an amazing festival where ocean lovers come together, and I just can’t wait to see everyone there!”

The current World Surfski Champion, Kenny Rice, will be taking to the surf in Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge. Not many Western Cape paddlers have managed to win competitions on the KZN coastline, and Rice – who manages to take the win no matter where he races – is looking to break that trend.

Speaking ahead of the race, Rice commented: “I’m super excited to come up to Scottburgh in June for the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge. It will be great to be racing the KZN guys on their home turf, as we don’t often get the opportunity. There’s no better place to spend World Ocean’s Day, celebrating marine life and encouraging the protection of our oceans. I’m looking forward to the race and experiencing the new coastline.”

The GOAT of surfski racing, Hank McGregor, is also coming in as one of the race’s top contenders. The 11-time World Canoe Senior Marathon Champion and winner of multiple canoe and surfski races had this to say about the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge:

“I am super excited about the new event on the KZN South Coast, especially as we celebrate World Ocean Day. It’s awesome to have a new race on the calendar and fantastic to have new sponsors and prize money in the sport. I’ll be on the start line of the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge, ready to give it a go! I’m super stoked and really looking forward to it. To all those who haven’t got their entries in, now is the time. We’ll see you there!”

Another South African surfski ace joining the competition is Michelle Burn, the current bronze medallist of the ICF World Championship Races. She recently took the Senior Ladies title – alongside surfski partner, Saskie Hockley – in the Freedom Day Challenge around Robben Island in the Western Cape.

“I’m super stoked to hear about the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge. The venue is so fitting as we’ll be racing in the beautiful Marine Protected Area of Aliwal Shoal for World Ocean Day,” commented Burn. “For me personally, having grown up on the KZN South Coast, spending most of my life loving and learning there, I’m thrilled to be able to support such an event. I hold all events on the KZN South Coast close to me, and I’m grateful to Barry [Lewin] for organising the event, the sponsorship from Leatherback Rum, and the inclusion of this race into the Ocean Festival which looks to be a great family weekend away. I’ll be at the event and spending the weekend with my family. This will be great training and preparation going into the season.”

Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge Details

Early entry cost: R250

Late entry cost: R300

On-the-day entry cost: R350

The first 60 paddlers get a race shirt from Leatherback Rum.

Contest registration: 7.30am

Contest start: 9am

Prizegiving: 1pm

Divisions: Men’s, Women’s, Juniors (U18s), Vets (40+), Masters (50+).

Paddlers will head from Scottburgh Main Beach in front of the Premier Hotel Cutty Sark beyond the surf zone north towards the famous Greenpoint Lighthouse. They then turn around the first marker buoy and head in an easterly direction to the internationally renowned Aliwal Shoal, one of 41 MPAs in South Africa and named by Jacques Cousteau as one of the world’s top 10 dive sites. Paddlers then head around the hot spot marker south for the final approach around the backline marker, through the surf zone and to the finish line on Scottburgh Main Beach.

The beneficiary of the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge is the Clansthal Conservancy, an NPO committed to the conservation efforts for the Green Point Inshore Restricted Zone (GPIRZ). The NPO states: “Our hope is to create a society of people who are able to live and play in safety surrounded by an environment, both terrestrial and marine, that is thriving and as close to natural as possible.”

Ocean Festivals are being held globally from 5 to 11 June 2023, with the celebration of World Oceans Day central to the events. On the KZN South Coast, the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge will be accompanied by a surfing contest, an ocean run/walk, beach clean-up, ocean-themed displays, and family-friendly activities.

For more information on the Ocean Festival and Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge, visit @aliwalshoalsurfski on Instagram and Leatherback Rum Aliwal Shoal Surfski Challenge on Facebook.