Words With The Pros – Build Up To Dis-Chem Pete Marlin 2022

by | Nov 3, 2022 | Paddle, Events & Racing, Racing News

The 2022 Dis-Chem Pete Marlin is attracting the world’s best surf ski paddlers for what is going to be an all out battle for singles and doubles titles in East London.

South Africa'S Top Paddlers Get Ready For Pete Marlin Downwind Surf Ski Race
Kira Bester is poised to take the win in the Dis-Chem Pete Marlin Women’s Singles race but will be facing tough competition without a doubt! (c) John Hishin

The 2022 edition of the two day Dis-Chem Pete Marlin Surfski Race will take place in East London on Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 November, with the added weight of hosting the Eastern Cape surf ski title deciders this year!

Downwind surf ski racing is the name of the game at the Dis-Chem Pete Marlin with a singles race taking place on Saturday and Doubles on Sunday. Last year it was Nick Notten and Michelle Burn who took the singles titles and in the doubles Nick and Andrew Birkett paddled to victory, as did Candice Murray and Kira Bester in the women’s race!

The lineup is looking stacked for the 2022 event and most of the top contenders have recently achieved podium or top 10 results at the Surf Ski World Champs in Portugal. We are expecting a monumental clash of the titans in East London this weekend. Hear from the top guys and girls on how their are sizing up to the challenge.

South Africa'S Top Paddlers Get Ready For Pete Marlin Downwind Surf Ski Race
Nick Notten is defending a singles title from the 2021 Dis-Chem Pete Marlin and looking to go one better in Sunday’s doubles race with Andy Birkett (c) Kerry Fenn

Nicky Notten – 1st Single / 2nd Double 2021 – (Doubles Partner: Andy Birkett)

WA: Nicky, you’re defending a 2021 singles title at the Dis-Chem Pete Marlin this Saturday but there are a lot of guys hungry to take that from you. Where do you place yourself going into this year’s singles race?
Nicky: This race has become one of the most competitive races we have on the SA calendar, it’s at a time of year where the Surfski guys really should be peaking for the end of year races, so it’s got everyone here, and they should be on pretty good form. 
I have had a good race in the Pete Marlin singles the past 2 years. I feel fairly comfortable on the course and in the community, so it almost feels a bit like a local race to me. 
I have had a bit of trouble being on form for a few big races this year, but really trying to turn that around on the weekend. Would love to make it 3rd year in a row, but I’m not gonna make any predictions.

WA: Looking at Sunday’s doubles event. What would you say is the most significant strength that you and Andy have together in the boat and how do you look to use that to your advantage?
Nicky: Well by now Andy and I have spent a bit of time racing together, that’s always helpful. I reckon I’m at an advantage by paddling with Andy who really just gives us so much power in all conditions. We had a good race together earlier in the year at Freedom paddle, so we will hope to replicate that 🙂

Kenny Rice – 2nd Single / 4th Double 2021 – (Doubles Partner: Uli hart)

WA: Mr World Champion. Kenny Rice. You’ve got all the momentum somebody could want going into this weekend’s highly competitive Dis-Chem Pete Marlin! What champagne are you going to be drinking on Saturday night?
Kenny: Haha.. I’m more of a chocolate milk guy!

WA: Jokes aside, it will be a tightly contended race this weekend. What has your training looked like between World Champs and this weekend?
Kenny: Ya, look it’s been difficult keeping up the moment after WC but luckily with summer pulling in fast and changing to morning sessions on the swamp with the Orka squad, getting the sessions done hasn’t been too bad! I’ve basically been ticking over in the AMs and laying into it on the downwinds in the afternoons in prep for what I’d assume will be a very fast start and race! Hopefully we will get some wind and that’ll make the racing even more tough on such a beautiful course.

WA: Yourself and Uli Hart are jumping in the double once again on Sunday. What do you enjoy most about your partnership with Uli and what would you say could be your winning quality as a team for Sunday?
Kenny: Myself and Ul seem to go much better in the Kayak than surfski but I must say I really enjoy paddling with him. He learns a lot from me and in turn I learn a lot through him. I think we are a really teachable/adaptable duo and we motivate each other a lot in training and racing! I’m looking forward to giving it another shot this weekend – and hopefully this time it’ll stick ha ha!

Andy Birkett – 8th Single / 2nd Double 2021 – (Doubles Partner: Nicky Notten)

WA: Andy, you’ve had a hugely successful year on the marathon scene with Gold medals from the World Championship and The World Games but we didn’t get to see you battle for the Surf Ski World Title. What is your outlook on the singles race at Pete Marlin having such a strong field of guys who have shown their form in the ocean this year. Where would you say you might have an edge for Saturday’s race?
Andy: South African ski racing is at such a high level internationally as can be seen by the recent Ski World Champs results. In order to be competitive at Pete Marlin this year you basically need to be one of the best ski paddlers in the world which I am not! I feel I have learnt a lot in the sea but still have a way to go for a guy who grew up 2 hours inland! It’s an awesome race and I am looking forward to having fun!

WA: You’re partnering up with Nicky Notten for Sunday, we know you two go well in the boat together and you narrowly missed out on the win last year. How do you see things going differently in 2022?
Andy: Doubles is always a really tough race, Nicky and I did a downwind in a double last weekend to try and remember what it’s like paddling in the sea together as I feel I usually take a few km in the race to settle into the double. We always have fun paddling together so I am looking forward to it.

Hank McGregor – 5th Single / 1st Double 2021 – (Doubles Partner: Joshua Fenn)

WA: What are your thoughts on the conditions predicted for this weekend, Hank? Looks like the wind and swell are going to be easing from Saturday to Sunday.
Hank: I have checked out the weather predictions for the weekend but on that coast line anything can happen on the day and that’s the beauty of Ocean Racing and you just have to adapt as best you can and don’t take the ocean for granted, like I got caught last year at yellows reef and paid for it .

WA: Yourself and Josh are racing to defend your doubles win here in 2021. You and the young u23 paddler seem to be a potent combo. What would you say each of you bring to the boat in terms of strengths that you think make the team such a force?
Hank: Yes I will be paddling with Josh again and hopefully we have a good one.
All the best SA paddlers will be contesting for the win which makes it exciting to be part of. What does each of us bring to the boat? That’s an easy answer! Josh brings youth and I bring power, experience and the good looks!

Jasper Mocke – 3rd Single / 3rd Double 2021 – (Doubles Partner: Dawid Mocke)

WA: Singles on Saturday and then in the double with your brother on Sunday, Jasper. Which event are you most keen for this weekend?
Jasper: I am most keen on the singles because it will automatically happen on the day with the best wind, which I need at this stage in my racing! But yes, definitely the bigger the better. And the doubles is always just a brutal race anyway. Suffer fest from start to finish.

WA: We have a properly stacked field on our hands for the 2022 Dischem Pete Marlin. What do you love most about the racing in East London and what kind of paddler would you say thrives there?
Jasper: I love the difficult aspects of racing in East London like the surf and currents especially. The skilled paddler is the one that thrives here.

South Africa'S Top Paddlers Get Ready For Pete Marlin Downwind Surf Ski Race
Working with the ocean is the name of the game for downwind racing. Michelle Burn managed it best in the 2021 Women’s Singles race. (c) Bruce Viaene

With last year’s winner Michelle Burn unfortunately out of the race this week due to sickness, the women’s field has been blown wide open!

Kira Bester – 2nd Single / 1st Double 2021

WA: Kira, the one woman that stood between you and the win last year is unfortunately out of the race this weekend. Do you think you have the form to win this year’s Pete Marlin?
Kira: I really do think I do! I am hoping to claim the crown this year, but obviously many variables come into play on the day. I’m hoping the weather plays in my favour. But all in all I am feeling very strong and confident. I’m also hoping to beat a few men along the way!

WA: What conditions would suit you best?
Kira: My ideal conditions would probably be at least 10 knots of wind, with some ground swell running along the coast. If the conditions are flat it makes breaking away a lot more challenging.

WA: We don’t see a doubles entry for you on Sunday? Are you sitting out this year’s doubles race?
Kira: I am. I have an exam on the morning of the 7th, and there’s only one flight a day from East London to Cape Town. Hence, I have to leave on Sunday, because the flight on Monday only leaves in the late afternoon. But I have faith in my partner Candice, who will be paddling with a Babette – who is a very strong junior from the Orka squad.

Saskia Hockley – 4th Single / 2nd Double 2021 – (Doubles Partner: Holly Smith)

WA: Saskia, you now hold Junior World Champion titles in Marathon and Surf Ski. How are you planning to take the race to the open women’s field this weekend?
Saskia: The Pete Marlin was such a blast last year and I’m super excited to be heading back down to the wild coast of East London to race it again! Having come off the back of 2 world championships just over a month ago, I feel like I’m at my strongest ever. I finished in the top 10 (9th to be specific) senior women’s field at the surfski worlds, and defended my junior title from last year so that gives me a bit of a confidence booster heading into this year’s Pete Marlin. The calibre of the women’s field entered is pretty much our entire SA team that went to worlds, with 4 of them (Kira, Nikki, Melanie, Candice) having finished in the top 11! Racing against them is always such a challenge and everyone is incredibly strong at the moment. I am hoping to have a clean race and just want to be able to say I raced my hardest! I think it’s going to be a very exciting race! 

WA: What makes yourself and Holly competitive in the double together and what are your aspirations for Sunday’s race?
Saskia: Holly and I have never sat in a double together but after my younger sister was forced to withdraw due to year-end exams, I asked Holly if she would be keen to jump in with me. She is such a lovely girl and we are good mates so we get along very well. Holly is super strong at the moment and having finished in second behind me at the Worlds, I think we’ll be confident enough to say that we’ll be fighting it out with the seniors for a spot on the senior podium 🙂 I’m hoping we have a clean race and gel nicely which I’m sure we will! I have no doubt we are going to have so much fun and it’ll be so nice to paddle with a good mate and fellow junior paddler and try give the more experienced women a tussle!

Candice Murray – 3rd Single / 1st Double 2021 – (Doubles Partner: Babette van Rooyen)

WA: What is your take on the 2022 Pete Marlin’s women’s field, Candice? Some tough competition! How confident are you for the singles event on Saturday?
Candice: The women’s field at the moment is super strong which is awesome to be a part of. It means that every race is a challenge and makes the top positions even more special. After Worlds I took a bit of a break to write exams but have had a good few weeks leading up to the Pete Marlin. The weather prediction looks like there is some wind, which is the conditions I prefer to race in. 

WA: You’re in a double with Babette van Rooyen for Sunday. Is this a new partnership? What drew you two into the boat together and what is your ambition for Sunday’s race?
Candice: Babette has been paddling really well at the moment. She is a new member to the Orka squad. Kira unfortunately can’t stay to race the doubles as she has an exam on Monday morning and there are limited flights. Babette was then the obvious replacement. We have done one session together in a boat and felt good so hoping we can surprise a few people in the doubles.

South Africa'S Top Paddlers Get Ready For Pete Marlin Downwind Surf Ski Race
Nikki Birkett is an East London local with the potential to shake things up at this year’s Pete Marlin! (c) Ant Grote

Nikki Birkett – no results 2021 – (Doubles Partner: Melanie van Niekerk)

WA: Nikki Birkett, you’ve got local knowledge on your side this weekend but who do you think will be the big danger paddlers you need to watch out for in the singles race?
Nikki: To tell you the truth I’ve been sick this whole week on antibiotics, it’s touch & go as to whether I race. It’s a very interesting question you’ve asked because in the past I’ve always looked into who the strongest ladies are and the biggest threats and focused on them but since being coached by Andy I’ve stopped doing that and only focus on myself, staying calm and not making mistakes…in saying that every lady lining up on the start has some sort of pedigree and is extremely strong whether junior or senior and conditions will definitely play a part into who can execute on the day!

WA: Yourself and Melanie van Niekerk are hopping in the double for Sunday. How much paddling have you two managed to do together and what would you say excites you most about the partnership?
Nikki: Melanie is such a cool person, I really enjoy her company and not only is she a phenomenal Surfski paddler but she is really humble too, I love that about her. We’ve been wanting to jump in a double for sometime but it’s never really worked out. Hopefully we have a cracker at Pete Marlin and can do a few more races together in the future!

Melanie Van Niekerk – no results 2021 – (Doubles Partner: Nikki Birkett)

WA: Melanie you must feel pretty confident for the singles race at Pete Marlin after your top 10 at World Surf Ski champs a few weeks ago! How has your build up to this weekend gone?
Melanie: I will be confident if the wind blows. If not, then it can honestly go any way. I took a bit of a holiday on my Worlds trip and felt that I lost quite a bit of fitness when I got home. So the last two or three weeks was just me trying to get some distance in to get the fitness back. I feel like it’s starting to come together again, so I’ll see how Saturday goes.

WA: Yourself and Nikki look like the crew to beat on Sunday. How are you approaching the doubles race and where would you say that your strength lies as a team?
Melanie: For the doubles I am really excited to paddle with Nix. We have not sat in a boat together, so I hope the combination will be fine. If so, I think the boat will be fast. I would say that with the combination in our boat, the strength would be equal for either a downwind or flat paddle. The races are not that far, so you just go hard the whole way.

There we have it, the stage is set for an awesome weekend of Surf Ski racing in East London. Hopefully the weather plays ball and gives the paddlers something to work with!
Keep an eye on the @wildairsports channels and website for more insights!

More info on the event here: petemarlin.co.za