Hank McGregor on his way to winning the 2022 Pete Marlin. PHOTOGRAPH: © Craig Giese.


Hank McGregor isn’t afraid to admit that finishing second at the World Championships last month hurt.

The 44 year-old legendary South African fought his way to the front of a star-studded field in Portugal, but was narrowly beaten by compatriot Kenny Rice.

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

McGregor boasts a winning history like few others in surfski, yet the ICF title remains the one missing piece.

Coming so close sent him down a path of self-reflection.

“I’ve mixed it up a bit since World Championships and analysed it all,” McGregor told The Paddler.

“It still means a lot to me, so I didn’t just let it slide.

“I’ve done a few things with my training and also my mindset.

“To come that close really hurt. In 2017 I lost by 17 seconds to Cory [Hill] and this year I felt even closer.

“I’ve never shied away from that fact I want to win the World Title, and I’m going to do everything I can to win it – whether it’s next year or the year after, I’m still going to be chasing it.”

“It’s something that I really want. It’s not arrogance or anything, it’s just a desire… I would love to become the World Champion for surfski.”

The final reef break brought McGregor unstuck last year, but there were no dramas this time around. PHOTOGRAPH: © Craig Giese.

Those changes have produced an instant result, helping McGregor claim the prestigious Pete Marlin title in East London over the weekend.

Similar to the World Championships, the veteran found himself in a battle with Rice in the final stages of the race, but this time, he overturned the outcome.

“It was important for me,” he admits. “To win it over a quality field it was a step in the right direction, meaning the things that I’ve changed have obviously worked.

“It wasn’t so much the win that made me happy, but more so the way I won it.

“To win the World Championships you have to be the best paddler, pardon the cliche. You can’t rely on winning it on a lucky line.

“I didn’t want to come here and take a line that I thought would be a better option, even though there were times that I thought I should do something else.

“I wanted to test myself and compare the feeling that I had at the World Championships in the last two kilometres, where I felt like I didn’t have much left, to now.

“I felt strong this time… I wish I felt like this a few weeks ago, but I guess it means I have to come back.

“It keeps my humble and it keeps my hungry.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

McGregor kicked clear – and also avoided the reef break that brought him unstuck last year – to claim victory in a time of 1 hour, 15 minutes and 5 seconds.

That was 22 seconds ahead of Rice in second, with Josh Fenn in third a further 27 seconds behind.

Uli Hart (1:16:32) was only just behind, in another close battle between he and Fenn, with David Mocke (1:17:32) rounding out the top five.

Incredibly, the women’s race was even closer.

Kira Bester looked set for victory until, like McGregor in 2021, she was wiped out by a wave passing the final reef.

That opened the door for rising star Saskia Hockly (1:33:31) to come through for the win, just one second ahead of Jenna Nisbet (1:33:32) in a thrilling sprint finish.

Melanie van Niekerk (1:34:26) finished third, with Holly Smith (1:35:07) and Kirsten Scott (1:35:17) just behind.

“Honestly, Kira got away from us around Gonubie and she just took off,” Hockly said.

“I only found out at the finish that she unfortunately had a swim on the reef coming in and I ended up taking first, so I’m very, very happy with that.”

GALLERY: Saskia Hockly crossing the line for victory at the Pete Marlin Classic, and an example of the danger the final reef poses.

At the prize-giving, a chorus of “oooh” rang out from the crowd from McGregor spoke of his desire to get the best of World Champion Rice.

McGregor laughed off any suggestion of an emerging rivalry between the pair, instead explaining his comments were a mark of admiration for both Rice and the rest of the field.

Kenny Rice (front) and Hank McGregor (rear) locked in another hard-fought dice at the Pete Marlin.

“I have the utmost respect for Kenny and everything he has achieved,” he says.

“It was more the fact I was giving kudos to the event. Most races don’t have the opportunity to have that many World Champions lining up… it’s something that’s really cool.”

Hank McGregor (centre) standing on top of the podium, with Kenny Rice (right) and Josh Fenn (left).

“Four of the top six paddlers from the World Championships were there, never mind the previous World Champion in Nick Notten, the current marathon champion Andy Birkett and Josh Fenn and Uli Hart… it’s quite a privilege to be racing against such a quality field, so to come out on top is super satisfying.

“That’s what I was saying… that to win the Pete Marlin, you have to beat the best paddlers in the world.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

The next test for McGregor’s refreshed outlook is fast approaching.

Next week he’ll board a plane bound for Australia to contest the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week and a share in $265,000 in prize money.

It’s his first time down under in five years, and he’s under no illusions about the challenge that awaits.

“I felt strong when I needed to be strong at the Pete Marlin,” he says. “Hopefully I can carry that through to next week’s racing and be where I need to be.

“There’s very little option to do something different in your line… you pretty much drag race to the finish, so you have to be the best paddler on the day to win it.

“I’m super excited for it and mentally I’m now in the right space, and I’m hungry. Regardless of the result, I just want to have a good race.”