NOTTEN & BIRKETT WIN 2022 PRESCIENT FREEDOM PADDLE
Nick Notten has claimed some of surfski paddling’s biggest titles in the past 12 months.
The ICF World Championship, Pete Marlin and Cape Point Challenge are all now in his possession.
But the proud Capetonian admits there’s something special about adding the Freedom Paddle to his name.
“Other big races have their prestige, and a history of paddlers from before my time, so it’s cool to be able to win a race that they have done,” he tells The Paddler.
“This race is fairly new, but it represents a very significant milestone for our country, so that gives it some gravitas.”
“It’s also very competitive, with all of South Africa’s best, and being a doubles race, it makes it quite unique – not many big races have doubles as the prime category.
“And it’s just a great day to be out enjoying spectacular scenery. It really makes you appreciate South Africa as the gem that it is.”
The 27-kilometre course out-and-around Robben Island has been held on the nation’s Freedom Day – April 27 – since 2018, and is significant as it is the location where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment.
This year, the calm, glassy conditions made for a grueling paddle – but also a thrilling race.
Notten and partner Andy Birkett kicked clear during a tight sprint finish to claim the 2022 Prescient Freedom Paddle in a time of 1:54:41.
That was just 13 seconds ahead of Hank McGregor and Josh Fenn (1:54:54), who were aiming for a third-straight victory.
The evergreen Dawid and Jasper Mocke (1:55:03) grinded out an impressive performance to round out the podium, with Kenny Rice and Uli Hart (1:56:45) and Dom Notten and Matt Fenn (1:58:42) chasing behind.
After a visually spectacular race start, the contenders quickly formed in a bunch at the front of the field.
That group broke down to just the two crews – Notten/Birkett and McGregor/Fenn – approaching Robben Island, but the Mocke brothers were able to claw their way back through the turn, for what Notten described as “basically a bunch race” on the 13-kilometres back to the mainland.
There were several bursts of speed, but eventually it was Notten and Birkett who surged ahead in the final kilometres and held on for the win.
It’s the second time Notten and Birkett have won the Freedom Paddle – but their first together – and comes six months after they took out the Fish River Canoe Marathon.
Click through to Facebook on the above video to watch the final sprint finish of the race.
“We had a really awesome race today,” Birkett said at the finish.
“Nicky was brilliant steering the boat today and it was a privilege to paddle with him. I just try and keep quiet and do my thing in the back.”
Notten said: “We’re very, very stoked. It was a great day.”
“You couldn’t ask for nicer conditions, really, for that kind of race.
“Andy was very, very strong in the back. It was a great combination and we’re really happy with the result.”
Olympic medalist Bridgitte Hartley and Pippa McGregor (2:12:39) combined to claim the women’s Freedom Paddle title, beating out Kira Bester and Jade Wilson (2:12:42) by just three seconds in another dramatic sprint finish.
Christie Mackenzie and Jordan Peek (2:21:10) were third.
Focus now turns to the South African Surfski Championships to be held in False Bay this weekend – the selection race for September’s ICF World Titles.
Officials are yet to announce a final decision, however it’s expected the race will be held on Sunday afternoon.
For results and all of the reaction to that race, follow The Paddler’s social media channels and subscribe to The Paddler’s Pod on your favourite listening platform.