THE HEART BEHIND HART’S MAIDEN CAPE POINT CHALLENGE VICTORY
It wasn’t until Uli Hart saw a friend jumping up and down on the Fish Hoek catwalk that he knew he was about to fulfil a lifelong dream.
And in that moment, just 100 metres from completing the 50 kilometre course, the magnitude of what he was about to achieve suddenly sunk in.
Stepping off his ski and running up the beach, Hart was in tears.
“I felt sheer relief,” he told The Paddler. “My mum was on the line and I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing.’
“It’s always been one to aim for, it’s always one that’s been on my mind because Cape Town is my home. I can now tick it off the bucket list.”
“I feel quite shocked that I am very young to have done that.”
Uli Hart embracing his mum after winning his maiden Cape Point Challenge. PHOTOGRAPH: Cape Point Challenge
“The race means quite a lot because, being from Cape Town and coached by Peter Cole, it’s one of his favourite races and that extends to everyone in the squad.
“Being mates with Kenny [Rice] and Nicks [Notten, both former champions], for them it was such a big race to win, so i’ve always followed that mindset.”
It had been four years since competitors had paddled the traditional course around Cape Point, but a predicted 15 knot south-easterly wind meant that absence would be extended for another 12 months.
“This decision is never an easy one to make,” organisers said in a statement. “But lengthy consultation with all parties involved has given the paddlers the best and safest route possible under the challenging circumstances.”
Instead, the 30th anniversary of the iconic event would be held inside False Bay.
Standing on the start line at Fish Hoek early on Saturday morning was a typically star-studded field.
Hank McGregor, boasting eight titles and the mantle of the most successful athlete the race has seen, had recaptured his best form this season.
Three-time champion Kenny Rice was coming in with victories at the World Championships and the Doctor.
Josh Fenn, Dawid and Jasper Mocke, Mark Keeling and Simon van Gysen had shown they were all in-form.
Stern faces among the elite before the start of the 2022 Cape Point Challenge. PHOTOGRAPH: Barbara Cole.
With names like that, it’s unsurprising Hart – the Under 23 World Champion – was wary of what was to come.
“Initially I was planning to start the race and keep it relaxed, because it’s been such a long season.” Hart explained.
“Going to Australia and racing there, I felt I hadn’t done as many long paddles as I would’ve liked.
“I was almost scared that I might blow, so I wanted to keep it chill and see how I go.”
His caution was well-placed.
Even with the length of the race, the moves arrived early.
One-by-one, as the lead pack snaked towards the point, and into the wind, in single file, paddlers made their moves.
And Hart was on alert.
“But I found I was actually pretty comfortable with the pace,” he recalls.
“At Miller’s I found myself at the front and it was my turn to pull so I gave it a good effort and I could feel there were a lot of people taking strain.
“I realised I was quite strong and by that stage we were halfway to the point.
“Hank and I exchanged one or two pulls there, then going into Buffels Bay there was more of that messy bounce-back and I didn’t want to sit on his tail, so I pushed the pace a bit more.
“When I looked around, it was just Hank and Simon, then when we got to the buoy in Buffels Bay, I felt their pace had slowed a little bit.
“I didn’t want my hard work to go to waste, so I decided to give it a proper go and see if I could break them… and it paid off.”
Hart turned in first place and never looked back – despite having half of the course still left to conquer.
“I just had to survive coming home and not get caught,” he says.
“I felt like I almost didn’t have enough gas to make it home, so I was trying to sit on the rollercoaster of the runs.
“When I finally paddled into Fish Hoek, it was just a relief that I made it there and no one had caught me.”
GALLERY: Swipe across to view the view Uli Hart’s elation at the finish of the Cape Point Challenge. PHOTOGRAPHS: Cape Town Sports Photography.
Hart claiming the biggest victory of his ever-emerging surfski career in a time of 3 hours, 55 minutes and 26 seconds.
The ever-impressive Simon van Gysen (3:56:48) came through for second, while Daniel Jacobs (4:00:07) produced an incredible performance to claim third.
McGregor (4:02:09) and Fenn (4:03:53) made up the top five.
While Dawid Mocke (4:04:26), Kenny Rice (4:04:58), Jasper Mocke (4:08:31), Chris Carson (4:11:52) and Under 18 winner Luke le Roux (4:13:45) rounded out the top ten.
To view the full results of the Cape Point Challenge, click here.
Standing on top of the podium with the renowned trophy in his hands, Hart’s overwhelming joy was balanced by a sense of relief, to finally be at the end of a long and at times “hectic” season.
“With so many races back on again… a lot of guys have been going all year-long,” he says.
“For me, it’s one of my best seasons. Winning the Under 23 World Championship, medaling at marathon Worlds and then enjoying a really good tour of Australia.
“To come home and finish on a super high note like this, it’s almost a little bit unexpected. It’s really cool.”
Uli Hart and Kira Bester with their winner’s trophies. PHOTOGRAPH: Cape Point Challenge.
The women’s race appears to have unfolded in somewhat of a similar way.
Kira Bester finished third in 2021, and won the women’s doubles in 2020.
But now, she’s a Cape Point Challenge champion.
The Under 23 competitor kicking clear to win in a time of 4 hours, 32 minutes and 38 seconds.
That was four minutes ahead of Under 18 World Champion Saskia Hockly (4:36:42) and Melanie van Niekerk (4:37:55).
Candice Murray (4:43:04) and Chloe Bunnett (4:46:40) made up the top five.
“I had a good start and went with the boys,” Bester reflected. “I was able to sit on their wave until Buffels Bay when I got dropped.
“I had to slog by myself and got some help from Mark Keeling to the point, but then there was no wind for about 12 kilometres.
“The initial part of the downwind was like a tease. From Millers there was actually nice wind and nice runs.
“It was good. I can’t complain.”