The FNB Race set another milestone for the popular Euro Steel McGregor Paddle Series, as the canoeing event came to Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg for the first time, attracting a massive field of paddlers of all abilities on Friday evening, eager to paddle with the world champion despite the icy weather conditions.
With a cold front having recently passed through KwaZulu-Natal, paddlers might have been excused for giving this one a miss but with the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships just three weeks away marathon racing has caught the imagination of many in and around Pietermaritzburg.
The race broke records in terms of development paddlers as over 70 young paddlers from various academies around KZN taking part in the event, which series director Pippa McGregor sees as a major step forward for paddling in KZN.
“Introducing young paddlers to the sport of canoeing is one of the fundamental aims of the series and to give them a safe environment where they can experience paddling in a race is important,” she said.
“To see all the smiles out on the water this evening suggests that we are doing our job and the series is reaching its objectives.
“Despite the cold weather, having so many paddlers out here and racing on the same stretch of water that the best paddlers in the world will be using in three weeks’ time just shows how marathon fever has gripped people.”
Speaking on Friday evening, race founder Hank McGregor echoed his wife’s words when he spoke about giving youngsters the chance to experience paddling.
“Luckily for me this is a sport that I got into at an early age and have had the privilege of racing at the top level for a number of years.
“To encourage youngsters to get involved in the sport and become consistent competitors is the goal.
“We might have a future world champion here, but to get people of all abilities and all backgrounds together and racing makes this series unique,” a proud McGregor added.
In the racing it was series founder McGregor who won an exciting end sprint against Pietermaritzburg-based Bryan Leroux in second and former Under 23 K1 marathon silver medalist Brandon van der Walt in third.
Euro Steel star and South African marathon champion Bridgitte Hartley was far too powerful for the rest of the ladies field and took home the honours ahead of international star Emma Andersson and Kerry Segal in third.
The fourth leg of the popular series shifts back to its founding base at Blue Lagoon on Friday 25 August with the Bidvest McCarthy Toyota Durban North Race.