320 paddlers gather for the 2019 Freedom Paddle race

Paddlers in the water
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Who would have thought Robben Island would ever be surrounded by surf-ski racers. It amplifies just how far South Africa has come in the past 25 years. Hank McGregor and Andy Birkett, the world marathon champions, dominated the 27km Freedom Paddle race, winning the South African national double ski titles in the process.

Reigning world champion, Hayley Nixon and her partner Michelle Burn won the women’s title.

This  year 320 paddlers set off, almost double the amount of entries from 2018, with a huge increase in the prize money as well.

McGregor and Birkett multiple paddle ski world champions and Dusi canoe marathon winners set a cracking pace, a pace no one in the world would be able to handle. In perfect weather conditions, they romped home to victory, consolidating what a formidable pair they are.

McGregor says racing around Robben Island on Freedom Day is special.

“Look it’s something special as a South African to just go and visit Robben Island, but to race on Freedom Day around Robben Island is something special. And to come out on top and win the race, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Cape Town delivered perfect conditions, perfect day and celebrating a great event.”

Birkett says that it is special to win the Freedom Paddle on Freedom Day.

“It’s really special winning the Freedom Paddle on Freedom Day and going around Robben Island. I remember going as a kid on a tour. So it’s really special paddling to Robben Island and around and back looking up and seeing Table mountain; so a really special day for Hank and I.”

Defending champions Jasper Mocke and Nicky Notten finished second while Nixon and Burn confirmed their dominance in the women’s section with a commanding victory.

Nixon says the Freedom Paddle is an iconic event to participate it.

“It’s an absolutely iconic event to participate in; you don’t get more beautiful cities than Cape Town. For every South African, you want to do something special on Freedom Day, to get to paddle around Robben Island where our President Nelson Mandela spent 27 years.”

The Freedom Paddle is a wonderful race around Robben Island; symbolic of the brave freedom fighters in the country’s liberation struggle.