Mouth to Mouth 2014 Surfski Race Report
The Mouth to Mouth Surfski race is held on 40km of the most pristine and untouched coastline, possibly anywhere in the world. Between Richards Bay Harbour and Mtunzini river mouth on the Kwazulu Natal North Coast, the only sign of civilization is a light house at the 23 km mark. Paddling this stretch of coast line is eerie. It’s long been on my bucket list, and when the NE blows, it is an amazing downwind surfski run.
Windguru was insisting on classic downwind conditions for Sunday, but at 6 am as we drove out of Durban, there was not a breath of wind. Instead, we had rain and mist, not good signs. Simon and I had to collect our second for the day from this finish at Mtunzini. We took the opportunity to check out conditions at the finish. Still absolutely no sign of wind, and a backline wave that meant business. This was going to be a tough day out, with a sting in the tail.
Richard’s bay harbour is a best-kept secret. It is full of gorgeous canals, clean water and beaches all inside the harbour. We started inside the harbour from Pelican Island and thankfully so as the wave on the beach at the traditional start was very very grumpy. The double surfski’s went off first with 2 favourite crews streaking off ahead. 5 of us made up the next group and we quickly formed a diamond as we left the harbour as there was no wind at all. What we did have though, was a stonking current with us. We were comfortably holding 13km/hr without having to paddle too hard. One crew left the safety of the group and went it alone on a deep line. We opted to stay with the locals and use their local knowledge and keep a middle line about 1.5km off the beach. The swell was huge and the roar from the backline was ominous.
Several km before the halfway point, the wind started to build a little and the odd bump started to show itself. We managed to use these to good effect and pull away from our group and we started to try and chase down the third-place crew. Durnford light House is at 23 km and just past halfway. It marks Durnford shoal, a very creepy and dangerous section. We took a 20 sec break to have a gu and then set about picking a line through the shoal. Let me set the scene. There is the normal backline about 1 km inshore, with a booming backline. Then its calm for a few hundred meters out to sea before it starts breaking again, directly in our path. This is followed by a calm patch where the waves are not breaking, but deep of the that is starts breaking hard again, with the odd massive foamy rolling right thru the calm section. Add a shroud of mist to everything and it becomes quite intimidating. The shoal is massive and one is in the danger zone for a good 10 min of hard paddling. A swim here would be a very, very long one with a few very big fish about.
We got through unscathed but there were a few heart in mouth moments as massive swells just outside of us started to feather. It certainly took attention away from the aching arms and numb bum. We could see the land marks of the finish now and we set about trying to chase down the 3rd place crew. The current had turned against us and the double in front headed in shore, presumably to try and get out of the current. We held our line and were able to close the gap considerably.
Our strategy for the surf at the finish was to come through the backline about 200m NE of the finish. When we had checked earlier, there appeared to be a break and there was a rumour amongst the locals at the start, that this would offer the safest passage. True as nuts, a gap opened up and we charged through the impact zone.
It was not without incident though, and Simon, my very experienced backseat driver, insisted on a few course changes and one or two hurry and waits, but we landed safely enough. The hassle was we were 500m down the beach with a very old and very heavy boat. It must have taken at least 5 min of trudging in soft sand to get to the finish. We lost a ton of time to the 3rd place double who paddled right to the finish and got through the surf like the masters they are.
Hank Macgregor took the win, but only by 30 sec from a late-charging Dawid Mocke. Hank took the unusual option of hugging the backline all the way and it almost cost him the race. Dawid was on our line. We even managed a brief chat as he blasted past us. He managed to close Hank down in the last stages of the race as Hank struggled into a strong current. Hank also took our option of hitting the beach early which cost him further, but the class of the man was undeniable as he took yet another victory.
Photo credits to Caroll Dewar Herman.