The 2016 Hong Kong Dragon Run has been Run and won by South Africa's Hank McGregor in the men's event and New Zealand's Teneale Hatton in the women's event. Both victories were hard fought affairs.
The paddlers woke up on race morning with the good news that the wind had been blowing at a steady 12 to 15 knots all night out of the East North East. By the time the race started this had risen to 15 to 18 knots out of the North East which is the perfect wind for this race.
When the gun sounded it wasn't long before two distinct packs formed on the way out to the Ninepins. Dawid Mocke led the charge on the left while a group containing the Rice brothers, Matt Bouman, Cain Eckstein and Cory Hill were on the right-hand side.
After the first 3kms, it was Australian Iron Man and pull up world record holder Caine Eckstein that showed the way. This was his first ocean ski race in three years and part of his preparation for his tilt at the NZ Coast to Coast this coming February and, hopefully, another tilt at the Coolangatta Gold next year.
Meanwhile, in the women's event, it was Teneale that led out from defending champion Nikki Russell, Rachael Clarke and, the emerging talent, Hayley Nixon.
By the time the first competitors got to the Ninepin Island rounding mark, after a tough 7km grind across the slop, it was Hank and Cory covering each other's every move and getting first use of the runs. Following closely behind was Sean Rice from Matt Bouman, Dawid Mocke and Caine Eckstein rounding out the top six.
While in the women's it was a hard fought affair to the first mark with all the main ladies within touching distance of one another.
The downwind section can be a bit tricky for the uninitiated with swell and wind chop seemingly going every which way. For the experienced Dragon Run paddlers it was what we wanted and it provided a fairly direct line to the second mark - The Kissing Whales.
Hank and Cory diced backwards and forwards on slightly different lines but ultimately arrived at Kissing Whales at the exact same time. Cory told me he knew he was in for a torrid time in the last 4km with the World Marathon K1 champion but gave everything he had. The lead changed a couple of times but with about 2km to go Hank dropped the hammer and forged what was to be the winning margin of 18 seconds.
Hank was extremely happy to come away defending his title in what was probably this years most competitive field. He now heads to the Doctor in Perth to try and claim about the only piece of silverware missing from his crowded trophy cabinet.
Sean Rice paddled well, as he always does at the Dragon Run, for a fine third while 40 year old Matt Bouman showed he still has amazing speed for his fourth placing.
Men's Top Ten
1 Hank McGregor - New Epic V12
2 Cory Hill - Fenn Elite S
3 Sean Rice - Think UNO Max G3
4 Matt Bouman - Epic V14
5 Dawid Mocke - Fenn Elite S
6 Caine Eckstein - Fenn Elite S
7 Kenny Rice - Think UNO Max G3
8 Jasper Mocke - New Epic V12
9 Austin Keiffer - Fenn Elite S
10 Ian Black - Fenn Elite S
The Ladies race proved to be every bit as competitive as the mens with Teneale Hatton holding off a late charge from Hayley Nixon. Hayley was closing the gap ever so slightly however the finish line came too soon and it was Teneale who secured a memorable win by 33 seconds.
The race for third and fourth was also an absolute beauty with Rachael Clarke holding off Jenna Ward by a mere 3 seconds.
Last years defending champion Nikki Russell couldn't find her groove on the day and finished a couple of minutes further back in fifth.
Ladies Top Five
1 Teneale Hatton - New Think UNO
2 Hayley Nixon - Carbonology Pulse
3 Rachael Clarke - Epic V10L
4 Jenna Ward - Fenn Spark
5 Nikki Russell - Fenn Spark
A big congratulations must go out to the race committee for putting on another well run event. We had the best men and women on the planet racing in what is a great test of your all around abilities.
The Dragon Run is an important event in trying grow our fabulous sport throughout Asia. We had competitors from China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and of course Hong Kong from the Asian region and a host of paddlers from all parts of the globe making this a truly international race.
To all our sponsors a massive thank you. As any race organizer knows we can't do it without their help.
So to next year and the ICF World Surf Ski champion will be crowned on this course. We look forward to welcoming everybody from around the world to what should be a defining event for Surf Ski in Asia.