At the start of the year, Michelle Burn doubted she’d even have the chance to compete at the surfski World Championships.

South Africa had been slapped with travel bans by nations all over the world, due to the emergence of a new COVID variant.

Against the odds, Burn overcame the logistical hurdles – and then overcame her rivals – to be crowned the new ICF Ocean Racing World Champion at Lanzarote in July.

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

But she never imagined that she’d compete at a second World Championships in 2021.

And certainly not in a sprint kayak.

“It’s been quite a year of racing, but flip, it’s been such an adventure and really, really of fun.”

Michelle Burn with her South African K4 500 teammates Zara Wood, Bridgitte Hartley and Esti Oliver (left to right).

Yes, it’s just been one of those years.

Burn was preparing to fly to the Irish Coast Championships when the opportunity arose out of the blue.

“Bridgitte Hartley, our Olympic medalist from South Africa, had been contacted by the Europeans to try and put a together a ladies K4 boat, because to create an event that’s eligible for World Championship status, they needed an extra continent to attend,” Burn explains.

“We asked around and we got a few of us together. I was in Europe anyway, so it wasn’t such a mission for me to jump across and do it.

“I was out of my comfort zone, but I do a lot of speed work in my training… I thought it would be a lot of fun.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

Burn isn’t a stranger to sprint racing.

She competed at a World Cup event racing in a K2 around nine years ago, or as she puts it, a “long, long time ago.”

But watching the crew of Burn, Hartley, Zara Wood and Esti Oliver race in Copenhagen, you would never have been able to tell.

They finished eighth in their semi-final, only a few seconds off the bulk of the field.

“Obviously it’s a bit of a challenge for the four of us to jump into a boat for the first time ever, never having raced a K4 500 before.” Burn says.

“We have a hell of a lot to learn and think about – a K4 is such a different boat to a K2 or a surfski.

“But I’m really, really stoked to have had the opportunity… we managed to pull together a really cool K4 boat.”

It was a unique way to end what was another successful trip for the surfski World Champion.

Burn added another title to her impressive year at the Irish Coast Paddling Championships, finishing ahead of compatriot Nicole Birkett and Spaniard Chloe Bunnett.

“It was so super cool to be able to get there and do the race.

“I’d never actually done that race before. It’s something I really wanted to do, but never had the opportunity to get around.

“I didn’t expect too much wind or a great, massive downwind… but there was absolutely no wind predicted on the day.

“In Dublin, the tides are massive between low and high, creating massive currents and they change quite drastically.

“Between 50 metres inshore or offshore, you could be going 1.5 to 2 kilometres an hour faster.

“I did find it quite a big challenge and different to any other race I’ve done.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

Birkett claimed the one kilometre hot spot prize, before the trio began to dice.

“The girls stayed pretty close together for the first five kilometres. It was quite nice to have some really tight racing.

Burn (middle), Russell (closest) and Bunnett (furthest) battled it at out the front of the field. PHOTOGRAPH: © Tommy Dickson / Irish Coast Paddling Championships.

“Only just before the turn can, I managed to get maybe two runs ahead of Nicky, which worked out quite well for me because I was able to turn the can clear into the headwind.

“I think if I had let the girls stay with me, they would have been able to tack onto my wave a bit easier… I was just grateful to be able to have a small gap.

“I managed to get into a nice rhythm coming home and I felt really comfortable eventually.

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

Burn finished more than a minute clear of Birkett and Bunnett to claim the 2,000 Euro winner’s cheque.

“I am really, really stoked,” she says.

“The girls were all really close, and flip – how nice to be able to travel again and race overseas?”

Walter Bouzan took out the men’s title to round of his incredible 2021, which you can read about here.