THE SWEET SATISFACTION BEHIND NOTTEN’S FIRST CAPE POINT CHALLENGE CROWN
Nick Notten has carried the title of World Champion for the past six months.
But only now does he feel like a one.
The 26 year-old fulfilled a childhood dream by winning his maiden Cape Point Challenge over a star-studded South African field, adding to the Pete Marlin victory he earned a month earlier.
In doing so, Notten not only silenced any doubt over the legitimately of his World Championship, claimed in a race missing most of the international contenders.
He also silenced the doubt within himself.
“I definitely had a point to prove in these races,” Notten says.
“I tried not to let it consume me, but definitely at certain levels it was very important for me to prove the World Championships weren’t a one-off occurrence.
“I was concerned that if the competitors who were unable to compete at the World Champs had beaten me, it would’ve taken a psychological toll in wondering whether I was truly deserving of any of those titles.
“You don’t want to be a one-hit wonder, you want to show the class that you pulled off is something you can consistently do.”
“I’ve been able to do that this year without focusing too much on that, which is something that settles my nerves moving onto bigger and better races.”
When Notten sat down to speak with The Paddler, enough time had passed for any victory-induced adrenaline – to have worn off – but his unbridled happiness still shone clearly.
“I’m still on such a high,” he says. “I’m still feeling very, very stoked with an ear-to-ear smile.”
“It’s something that any junior that trains with our squad, or is from Cape Town, has a dream of doing.
“It means a lot to us to compete in it, but to win it is just spectacular.”
With two runner-up finishes already to his name, it felt like somewhat of a certainty that Notten would eventually make that final step to the top of the iconic 50 kilometre race’s podium.
After first stumbling across the event as a nipper at Fish Hoek beach, he admits the thought of a home victory has always driven his attempts.
But the closer he edged to that dream, the more obvious it became that he would have to overcome his best friend to fulfil it.
So, when Notten turned for the final downwind run to the finish in this year’s race, he did so with Kenny Rice by his side.
The pair have grown up going run-for-run at training and in races – last year, Rice won his third Cape Point Challenge by just five seconds over Notten – so they expected nothing less.
“I wasn’t too confident at that point, I must admit,” Notten says.
“I think it is quite a unique dynamic. I don’t think we tend to think too much about it before we race.
“Even in the race, we’re giving each other advice… I could never think to screw over Kenny to give myself an advantage, or anything like that.
“I think it’s always for the better. We keep each other in check at training. You know you can always look to your mate and know how well he’s going, and he knows how well I’m going, and we both know if we’re on the pace to take on the rest of the crowd.
“Obviously I would love to win – and I really enjoyed winning – but coming second in those two years, I was always so stoked for him as well. You see how much it means to him.
“It almost gives us an opportunity to be happy regardless of the result. Even if you don’t manage to pull off the win, you can be just be so happy to see a close friend to do well.”
“I’m not trying to say at all that we’re not competitive with each other, but I think it’s a really cool aspect of our relationship that we can be so stoked for the other person regardless.
“And that’s truly stoked – not a simple handshake at the finish – but actually celebrate it and talk about it for weeks afterwards.”
Their friendship is one of several storylines from a Cape Point Challenge that encapsulated everything that makes the surfski community so revered.
Despite an unfavourable forecast of a strong sidewind, more than 66 paddlers still lined up for the gruelling challenge.
Notten claimed victory in 3 hours, 39 minutes and 12 seconds, less than 20 seconds ahead of Rice and a minute and a half ahead of Josh Fenn.
Typifying the spirit of the event, Jasper Mocke sacrificed his own competitive result to aide a double ski pair who had come into trouble.
Unbelievably, the battle for the women’s title was just as close.
What started as a large pack slowly thinned out over the three-lap course, until one final drag race to the finish decided the victor.
Melanie Van Niekerk emerged with back-to-back victories, 30 seconds ahead of Candice Murray and five minutes ahead of Kira Bester.
“There was three of us at the end, then there was two of us at the end, then Candice and I had a lekker last downwind home,” she said.
“That’s pretty much my strong point so I was very happy with that.
“It was a beautiful, normal Millers Run I suppose.
“I went down one massive bomb and I think it was the fastest I’ve ever gone on this thing… it was the biggest drop ever, there was some massive swell coming through.”
The intensity of the conditions means those paddlers who took part have certainly earned their New Year’s break.
For Nick Notten, that means a chance to finally stop and reflect – and savour what has been a breakout year of results.
“A lot of people have sent a message saying not just well done on racing but also that I’m so happy that you’ve won.”
“I feel like they’re not just recognising an achievement, but also happy that me in particular had won.
“In that sense, it’s really nice to have done so well, but while doing well, not rubbing people the wrong well.”
It provides further reassurance to Notten that he belongs at the top of the podium.
And that belief could well prove to be the greatest victory of his memorable year.
“I remember my first international race and being completely blown away by the start line speed… I thought, ‘there’s no way in hell that I am fast enough to hang onto any of these people.’
“Every now and then you get competitors that completely shock you with their strength and ability and it takes a lot of peace of mind to calm down in preparing for these races.
“I need to remember that I myself have strengths that I can utilise and that I am also a very competitive paddler who can do well.
“Having that confidence and belief in your own paddling means that you don’t have to panic and change your race strategy.
“It’s the belief that what you are doing is adequate to win and that confidence is something that you can’t just turn on… It’s slowly earned over time, and it’s very difficult to train or describe how it comes about.
“I hope that I have managed to acquire at least a portion of that now.”