HILL & BESTER WIN HONG KONG DRAGON RUN CROWNS
Cory Hill has become the most successful surfski paddler in the history of the Steelcase Hong Kong Dragon Run, claiming a record fourth victory this afternoon.
The triumph moves him past Dawid Mocke, Hank McGregor and local female paddler Wong Hock Wing Winnie, who all came into today with three titles to their names.
But Hill, who was racing at the event for the first time since 2019 due to the territory’s COVID travel restrictions, wouldn’t be denied.
“It’s fantastic,” Hill told The Paddler moments after the race.
“For me, the Dragon Run was definitely a race that, right from the outset of my career, I wanted to win.
“Shannon Eckstein won it back in 2009 and it introduced me to the sport of ocean ski paddling.
“For me to have my name on the trophy with Shannon is super cool, as it is. To have more than him is even better,” he laughs.
“But this race opened my eyes to the sport.”
This afternoon proved to be another memorable performance from Hill.
The field was greeted by typically windy, bouncy conditions, that made the run out to Nine Pins islands a grind.
The two-time World Champion is known to make his move early at the Dragon Run. This time, he took just 200 metres.
He gapped his rivals in that initial burst, and was still clear when he won the hot spot at Nine Pins, five kilometres into the race.
And from there, he never looked back.
“It was great. It just seemed to line up really well. It was big and it was bumpy. It never disappoints here,” Hill says.
“Even when it’s hotter and flatter, there is still a lot of movement out on the ocean.
“I’m really happy to have been able to get the win against Australians at 20 Beaches, and now race the international contingent and get a win here.
“I was aware that Hank also had three titles here, and I thought today would see one of us go ahead.
“I approached it like 20 Beaches this year. You just line up and take each opportunity when you can. I’ve been living that way recently… that attitude of, ‘just do it while you can.’
“It was really enjoyable out there today and I’m feeling confident moving into the Doctor and the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week.”
While Hill had it his own way, behind him, there was a fierce battle.
German Gordan Harbrecht, competing in Hong Kong for the first time, was second at the Nine Pins turn.
He was soon caught by Hank McGregor and Josh Fenn, starting a hard-fought downwind run for the next 15 kilometres.
Organisers opted for a new finish location this year, adding an extra two kilometres, but still keeping a flat-water grind to the line.
McGregor was second at the final headland, with Fenn third.
But coming from the clouds, was Australian Mackenzie Hynard.
Seventh at Nine Pins, he had snaked his way through the field to reach the front. He caught Fenn, but couldn’t reach McGregor.
Harbrecht finished in fourth, while Fenn landed in fifth.
“I’m really proud of how I finished.” Hynard said, continuing his recovery from a broken foot. “I feel great.”
“I had a proper reset at Nine Pins. Before the race, I broke it down into three distinct sections.
“Knowing that, it allowed me to compartmentalise the first ‘race’ as a write-off. I told myself, ‘there’s two to go. Whatever happens, i’m going to put it all on the line.’”
The battle for the women’s crown was just as thrilling.
Riding a wave of momentum into the race, Kira Bester made a flying start.
Although, she came to regret it.
“I started really hard, maybe a bit too hard.” Bester said. “I hit a wall in the first two kilometres and Michelle took the pull.
“I actually dropped off the wash a few times and had to get back on. She was just grinding, she was a motorboat, I couldn’t stay by her.
“We got a bit lost going to Nine Pins, she won hotspot. I didn’t even attempt to take it from her, I was just too sore.”
It took a rather dramatic turn for Bester to bounce back.
At around 10 kilometres into the race, she fell out of her ski when a tanker ship came past.
“I had a moment where I said, ‘Oh no, this is the end. This is literally the end,” she says.
“I think I actually needed that swim to cool off and get my mind at ease.”
She didn’t know it at the time, but the stumble saw her paddle back to Burn.
The two didn’t see each other throughout the race, but came back together for the final two kilometres.
“She had really bad forearm pain at the end. I took it as an opportunity and grinded home… painfully,” Bester said.
Kira would claim victory ahead of Burn, and Melanie Van Niekerk in third.
The trio will now all make their way to Australia, ahead of the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week kicking off next week.