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Sporting splashdown in PE

This year’s Nelson Mandela Bay Splash Festival will once again brim with international watersports action as the annual Easter weekend highlight returns to Hobie Beach in Port Elizabeth.

From 22-25 April, some of the top local talent and a smattering of world champions are expected to stream in and entertain the crowds. The festival dives straight into the action on Good Friday with the 26-kilometre Nelson Mandela Bay Surf Ski Classic. Two-time defending champion Dawid Mocke and PE-based Beijing Olympian Mich├®le Eray will be back to defend their titles with an eye on the R30 000 prize purse.

On the Saturday, over R50 000 is up for grabs in the Nelson Mandela Bay Bell Buoy Challenge.To ensure the safety of all participants in this tough open water swim, the eight-kilometre race will now follow an L-shaped out-and-back course between Hobie and Pollok beaches.

Last year, open water world champions Petar Stoychev of Bulgaria ÔÇô who is credited with the fastest crossing of the English Channel ÔÇô and Melissa Gorman from Australia took the men’s and women’s honours respectively.

ÔÇ£This event is fast becoming one of the most prestigious open water swims in Africa,ÔÇØ said the festival’s watersports coordinator Michael Zoetmulder. ÔÇ£Of course, with 22 species of shark in these warm waters, it’s also one of the most daunting.ÔÇØ Zoetmulder said the challenge, labelled an eco-swim, would also be used to highlight Algoa Bay’s bid to become a World Heritage Site. ÔÇ£This is the perfect platform for showcasing its biodiversity.ÔÇØ

Aspiring swimming stars will get a chance to shine at the kilometre-long Izani Siqubhe Swim on the Sunday. The event is aimed at promoting previously disadvantaged swimmers and offers cash prizes to the top finishers in the development category. ÔÇ£Its aim is to groom young talent for open water events like the Bell Buoy Challenge and to give them the chance to compete alongside top international swimmers,ÔÇØ said Zoetmulder.

Prior to the festival, these youngsters will have the opportunity to attend coaching clinics under the auspices of the Masakhane Future Stars programme and rub shoulders with the sport’s elite.

The watersports schedule culminates on the Monday with the action-packed King and Queen of the Bay. This crowd-pleaser comprises a number of events such as an elimination swim over five rounds of 500 metres each, beach flags, beach sprints and Malibu board.

The top male and female swimmers will receive R3┬á000, with R2 000 going to winners in each of the remaining events. ÔÇ£A lot of fit and bored triathletes will be looking for something to do after the Ironman,ÔÇØ said Zoetmulder. ÔÇ£We hope they’ll come down in their numbers and be part of the action.ÔÇØ

All watersports events are open to the public.