The Hong Kong Dragon Run has a rich history of delivering world class winners. Names such as three time winner Dawid Mocke, two time winners Hank McGregor and Tim Jacobs as well as Sean Rice and Shannon Eckstein have their names engraved into the Gold Dragon Trophy.
This years running of the event is sure to add to that impressive resume.
Last year saw a clash of dates with the West Coast Downwinder in Perth which made the worlds elite have to make a choice between Hong Kong and Perth. With The Doctor, one of the worlds most prestigious ocean ski races, running the following weekend most chose Perth as their destination. This year the Dragon Run committee wisely moved the event to one week prior to avoid the clash. This gives all paddlers from near and far a chance to compete in three world series races on three weekends in a row in our time zone.
Adding to the incentive to make the trip to Hong Kong is a new sponsorship from China Silver Asset Management. This years prize pool is a minimum of $20,000 USD with $4500 USD for the winner of both the mens and ladies events.
The 2015 Dragon Run turned into a two horse war between Hank McGregor and Sean Rice. Both had previously had their name etched on trophy and in the end it was Hank taking the title by around 40 seconds in conditions described as the best the race had seen.
Hank and Sean battle it out just inside Kissing Whales
Podium 2015. Adrian Boros, Hank and Sean
This year will be a much tougher assignment to stand atop the podium. Major names that have already committed themselves to this years race include -
South Africans - Hank McGregor, Sean and Kenny Rice, Dawid and Jasper Mocke, Barry Lewin and Oscar Chulupsky.
Hank has been dominating again this year (whats new!!) winning just about everything he enters from Surf ski to K1 to river racing. The man is a competitive beast and it would take a brave person to bet against him winning here again this year.
Dawid Mocke has enjoyed some great success this year. He won the Canadian SS title and made off with second place at the Nelo Summer Challenge. Younger brother Jasper also won in North America taking home the Gorge Trophy.
Sean Rice, meanwhile, has been globetrotting around the world spreading the surf ski message via his Paddle Life Clinics and picking up victories here and there with his most recent win being a dominating exhibition of surf ski paddling in the Dutch Coast Race.
If the conditions on the day are anything like last year don't discount Oscar from being up the pointy end of the placings.
The top Aussies entered include Cory Hill, Caine Eckstein, Macca Hynard, Dane Sloss and the evergreen Tommy Woodriff.
Cory has been in red hot form himself the past 18 months. The reigning ICF World SS Champion will be very hard to beat and in fact at the major races he has contested the only man to have beaten him is Hank. Apart from, that is, Molokai this year when leading by a good margin with only a few kms to go he got a bit close to the wall and ran aground damaging his boat unable to finish.
Caine Eckstein will be out to try and emulate his older brothers success from 2009. Shannon Eckstein is arguably Australias greatest ever iron man and when he decided to take part in the Dragon Run of 2009 won the race. Caine is no stranger to the top step of the podium either with an impressive resume in Ironman racing. He is a five times winner of the prestigious Coolangatta Gold, has won a Kellogs Nutri Grain Series and is, quite simply, an amazing endurance athlete.
The other Aussie who has been "on the burst" lately is Tommy Woodriff. Now in the 40-49 age category he has been winning races against the younger brigade around Sydney and placing close up in the top three of four at the major Aussie races behind the likes of Cory and Jeremy Cotter. The guy has got some chops and will be in the mix coming to the finish line.
A couple North Americas best ocean paddlers, Austin Kiefer and Pat Dolan, are racing as is one of the finest French paddlers, Benoit Le Roux. Throw in Kiwi Sam Mayhew and the top 15 looks to be super competitive.
Mean while in the womens event this could be one of the strongest fields ever assembled for the Dragon Run. We have last years Dragon Run champ Nicky Russell along with fellow SAFFAS Jenna Ward and Hayley Nixon. The Kiwi pair of Teneale Hatton and Rachael Clarke will be out to make their mark as will Mauritius Ocean Classic winner, Australian, Wendy Reyntes. All these ladies will have the French star Angie Mouden to keep them honest.
What we do know is that to get a win at the Dragon Run you have to bring your A Game. Its a 23km test of your all around paddling skills that has three distinct parts to it.
(1) The start in Clear Water Bay out to the Ninepins. A seven km section where you are punching across and slightly into the prevailing swell and wind. You can get some assistance from the rebound off the cliffs at Clearwater Bay
(2) Ninepins to Kissing Whales. A twelve km downwind section that is where most of the elites will try to make their move. In the prevailing North East monsoon it is a true downwind section that is a lot of fun.
(3) Kissing Whales to the finish line at Stanley Sea School. A flattish four km grind to the finish line. If you are side by side with another competitor at this point it boils down to who has done the most training or who has the bigger heart. There is no place to hide.
Good luck to all competitors taking part and may the wind blow. We will be back after the race with a comprehensive round up of what went down and all the talking points.
The Surfski Asia Team.