This year’s World Ocean’s Day will be celebrated at the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge doubles race taking place at the second Ocean Festival. The 2024 edition, taking place at Scottburgh on Sunday, 9 June, welcomes some of the sports’ biggest competitors vying for their share of the R20 000 cash prize – among them 2023 winners Hank McGregor and Michelle Burn.

“We are delighted to welcome back Leatherback Rum as title sponsors for the surfski challenge, as well as the winners of last year’s event who will be returning for another shot at the title,” said Russel Symcox, Ocean Festival Founder. “The veritable GOAT of surfski racing, Hank McGregor, has signed up to show his support alongside our local paddler and World Number 2, Michelle Burn. No doubt these high-profile competitors will draw in even more contenders as well as a crowd of spectators, all of which will contribute towards ocean conservation efforts.”

Hank McGregor.

Barry Lewin, the Race Director, commented: “I’m really excited to be heading back to the Mid-South Coast for the second edition of the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge. This is a unique opportunity to paddle within a Marine Protected Area and, to give back to our oceans as part of the World Ocean’s Day initiative, is an awesome opportunity for the surfski paddling community. We use our ocean daily and we need to protect it for our future generations.”

Hank McGregor, the 11-time World Canoe Senior Marathon Champion and winner of multiple canoe and surfski races said he’s excited to be competing in the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge again: “Last year’s challenge was really well run, there were great prizes, and everybody thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it’s refreshing to get new events in the sport and Barry did a great job, drawing on his background as an athlete. I highly recommend that everyone who didn’t do it last year get down to Scottburgh, it’s awesome. It’s a hidden gem for paddling and you really feel like you’re on holiday when you stay there. This year is a bit different as it’s doubles, so I’m looking for a partner, but it’s great to mix it up!”

Another South African surfski ace joining the competition is the current titleholder Michelle Burn, a notable South African competitor and silver medallist of the ICF World Championship Races. Commenting on the upcoming challenge, the uMhlanga resident said:

Michelle Burn.

“I am very excited to save the date and get my entry in for the upcoming Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge in Scottburgh! I have had a solid year of ocean paddling since winning the event last year in a single, so hopefully I can secure a good partner leading into this year’s doubles event! Coming from Toti, I have spent a lot of time paddling on the South Coast. I absolutely love the coastline there and will always try to support events that include being able to test surf skills with some enjoyable ocean swell!  I had a wonderful weekend at the Premier Hotel Cutty Sark last year and the vibe was really fun. I’m looking forward to another enjoyable weekend on the South Coast to celebrate World Ocean’s Day – I can’t imagine a better cause!”

Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge Details

There is the option of the 15km long course and 8km short course in the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge. 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.

Date: Sunday, 9 June

Place: Scottburgh Main Beach

Contest registration: 7.30am

Contest start: 9am

Prizegiving: 1pm

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

Entry fee: R305

Race-day entry: R350

There is a gift for early entries and lucky draw prizes!

Thanks are extended to all the sponsors of the Leatherback Rum Surfski Challenge: Leatherback Rum, Premier Hotel Cutty Sark, The Pumpsmith, Halfway Toyota, South African Surfski.

Ocean Festival events

This year’s Ocean Festival, which embraces the World Ocean Day theme Catalyzing Action for Our Ocean & Climate, celebrates the ocean through a variety of outdoor events and activities suited to all ages. The festival will start with an Ocean Education session for schools presented by SAAMBR (South African Association for Marine Biological Research) on Thursday, 6 June and concludes with the Leatherback Surfski Challenge on Sunday, 9 June.

Other activities throughout the weekend will include:

✓     Beach clean-up at Scottburgh Main Beach

✓     School education workshop presented by SAAMBR

✓     Ocean conservation science and research presentations

✓     Aliwal Shoal scuba diving reef clean-up

✓     Mahlongwa River paddle and clean-up

✓     Exclusive film screening at Premier Hotel Cutty Sark

✓     Ocean Festival Surf Pro surfing contest at Scottburgh Main Beach

✓     Live music and entertainment evening

✓     Ocean Carnival Lifesaving event with Scottburgh Lifesaving Club

✓     Made for More adaptive surf therapy session

✓     Sunrise Beach yoga & movement

✓     Ocean-inspired outdoor mural art

Please check @theoceanfestival on Instagram and Facebook, and website for the most updated Ocean Festival programme details.