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South Africa Triumphant at Waveski World Championship

Text: Gareth Evans. Photos: Doug Copeland, Rory Taylor and Melissa Hardy. Article from the December/January 2012 issue of DO IT NOW Magazine.

In August 2011, the Waveski World Championship was part of a massive and successful celebration of wave sports; the Ocean Spirit Festival, held in Santa Cruz, Portugal. This action-packed event involves a diverse range of ocean wave sports and brings together board surfers, paddle-board surfers, waveski surfers, kayak surfers, kite-boarders and skim-boarders amongst others, from 15 countries. The events are held in and around a veritable temporary city centre built on the beach, with a swimming pool sunk into the sand.

In August 2011, the Waveski World Championship was part of a massive and successful celebration of wave sports; the Ocean Spirit Festival, held in Santa Cruz, Portugal. This action-packed event involves a diverse range of ocean wave sports and brings together board surfers, paddle-board surfers, waveski surfers, kayak surfers, kite-boarders and skim-boarders amongst others, from 15 countries. The events are held in and around a veritable temporary city centre built on the beach, with a swimming pool sunk into the sand.
Part of the event’s entertainment was a DJ competition and this, combined with the music concerts, added to the already festival atmosphere and ensured that a great time was had by all.

Attending this prestigious event, as proud representatives of South Africa, was the South African Waveski team; individuals who had fought hard for their places against many other equally keen athletes, all vying to fill the few spots available. Due to funding for the sport being tight in this tough economic climate, only a small team was chosen and the selection criteria was incredibly tough, to ensure that those participating were likely to be competitive at the top of their divisions.

Wen 'n romantiese wegbreek ter waarde van R40 000

Travelling with a waveski is always a nerve-wracking experience, as airline baggage handlers are not renowned for their care and arriving at a competition to find your waveski or paddle in pieces or in another time zone is not fun. Unfortunately for Max Eckhoff, his waveski went AWOL and only arrived just before the competition started – it’s not the kind of stress one needs just before a major event!

Charl in action

The balmy days and nights and warm ocean were a big change for the predominantly Cape Town and Eastern Cape team, especially after the bitterly cold winter experienced in South Africa. With just a few days to settle in, the team took in some of Santa Cruz’s magical sights and familiarised themselves with the competition break, while being driven around in a mini-bus at breakneck speeds by a local, who managed to steer with one hand while taking self-portrait photos of himself and the team with his ‘free’ hand.

The competition break was a shallow beach break that dredged sand close to shore, with the abruptness of a large axe on bigger days. After a good practise swell, the first day of competition dawned as the swell disappeared and wind picked up. A day later, however, big swells and strong winds arrived and the first competitors battled their way out through the shore break. In the Open event, Rees Duncan, the reigning World Waveski Champion, was soon wowing the spectators and living up to his nickname ‘Master Blaster’, as he threw and landed huge aerials with pure ease and style. However, the large French team didn’t take long to stamp their authority on the competition, the depth of talent obvious in their dynamic surfing and ability to maximise moves off even the smallest waves. South Africa’s Andre Burger challenged successfully time and again, and the event came down to a hotly- contested affair between Rees Duncan and himself. Unfortunately Andre was narrowly beaten out of a spot in the semi-finals, but he and teammate Doug Copeland surfed amazingly in tough conditions to finish in seventh and eighth position, respectively, in the world. In a surprise upset, Rees Duncan was knocked out in the semis by a French Junior, while the Open final was a fierce tussle between two French Juniors to decide the new reigning Waveski World Champion and runner up. In the Age groups, with conditions still large and the guillotine break to negotiate on the paddle out, Mike Cowan finished third in the Seniors after pulling out all the stops and a crucial last-minute aerial in the semis.

Struggling in the tumultuous surf, SA Junior Ruan Brand felt the edge of the guillotine after mistiming the crucial moment between sets. As the blunt hammer of a wave crushed him into the sand, he desperately battled free of his ski, but was caught and battered on the shallow bar until he was nearly senseless before a rescue jet ski was able to reach him and drag him to safety. Ruan had had a lucky escape, having only received a dislocated shoulder and bruised ribs.

Percy in a barrel

In a battle of the giants, the well over six-foot Doug Copeland came fourth in the Masters after narrowly losing to the fiercely competitive, well over six-foot Lance Milne from Australia. Thanks to the incredible fundraising efforts and support of the Gonubie community in East London, young Max Eckhoff was able to realise his dream of surfing in the World Waveski Championship. Their faith was well placed as Max fought through a tough European line-up to place fourth in the New-Age division.

The final results saw the SA Waveski team clinching a string of top placings, with Sandra Pienaar from PE taking the Women’s gold despite the best efforts of her top-ranking Australian and French rivals. After numerous top-three finishes, Sandra is now the Women’s Waveski World Champion; a truly fantastic and well deserved achievement. Not to be outdone by the ladies, Willie Graser earned himself the Veterans Waveski World Champion title.. In 2010 I watched him surf huge Magna Tubes at Jeffreys Bay to become the SA Veteran Waveski Champion, so this win came as no surprise to the South Africa waveski community, who know how fearless, passionate and strong he is. Charl du Plessis, with a reputation as a tough competitor, became the Grand Masters Waveski World Champion, and was closely followed by Gerard Wilke, who claimed silver in this division.

SA Waveski TeamEven with the laud, strobe-filled nights and long, hot days spent in flurries of intense activity or tedious waits, the SA team was able to stay focussed and keep it together thanks to their fantastic Team Manager, Jan Brand. Overall, the South AFrica team did us proud in a sport dominated by the Europeans – for now!

Well done team!

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