By Quintin van Jaarsveld
Heather Clark has described her women’s open triumph at the 2015 Citroën South African Surfing Championships in Richards Bay on Sunday as one of the most gratifying victories of her illustrious career.
A new champion was guaranteed after Nikita Robb’s quest for a fifth consecutive title came to a shock end at the quarterfinal stage.
Clark had been a consistent force in the open and masters division all week, the evergreen Port Shepstone icon’s potent mix of strong goofy-foot surfing and supreme fitness earning her a place in both finals.
“Fergie” failed in her bid to complete a national masters hat-trick as she surrendering her crown to Tasha Mentasti after placing third in the final – which also featured runner-up Tamarys de Maroussem and fourth-placed Bianca Bosman – but that disappointment was short-lived.
Coming up against Mentasti, national team rider Faye Zoetmulder and 2014 Under-20 champion Emma Smith in the open final, Clark bided her time in the challenging conditions at Alkantstrand and struck deep into the decider to recapture the most prestigious prize in South African women’s surfing.
Zoetmulder had to settle for second place, Smith placed third and newly-crowned masters champion Mentasti finished fourth.
It was Clark’s eighth South African women’s open title and historically fitting that, at the 50th edition of the national surfing showpiece, the most decorated women’s surfer in the country’s history reminded all and sundry that at 44 years of age, she is still the queen of South African surfing.
For the former world number three, whose trail-blazing résumé includes the distinction of being the only South African surfer to have won the prestigious Hawaiian Triple Crown and multiple masters world titles, the win is a memorable one.
“I haven’t won the open title for so long and with it being the 50th SA Champs as well, this is a super special win,” Clark told eHowzit.
“Going into the championships, Nikita was the one to beat and she was pretty unlucky not to make the final. We’re good friends and she actually helped and coached me through the last couple of heats, which was also really cool.
“Having two very talented youngsters in the final, I thought to myself I should rather focus on winning the masters final. I’m just very grateful that we had 25 minutes because I was able to get a late wave to move into the lead.”
“Fergie” feels she was aided by divine intervention and a bit of luck.
“Justin Maisch’s daughter Ella came to me on the first day and gave me a little stone. I asked her to give it a little kiss; she gave it a little kiss and I said I’ll use it as a lucky pebble and that’s what I did,” she explained.
“I used it in my early heats and I won those and then today, I got second in the semis and third in the masters and I realised that I didn’t have my lucky pebble on me.
“So for the open final, I gave it a rub or two like a genie, shoved it up the leg of my wetsuit and went surfing with it and got the win, so I thank little Ella for my pebble.”
On a more serious note, Clark said, “I knew I had to keep calm because there were just four or five points in it throughout the final. It was anyone’s game and there weren’t a lot of waves.
“I’ve never prayed so hard in a heat and then, out of the blue, this little left popped up and I did two nice turns to go from third to first.
“It felt like those last four minutes took forever but fortunately I was able to hang on. It’s a really lekka win for an old timer like me to beat a couple of young competitors.”
Clark’s win was the highlight of Ugu’s campaign. The team, formerly known as Southern KwaZulu-Natal, scooped seven medals and finished third overall in both the 50th South African Championships and 10th national masters championships.
Carl Roux and Judge Oliver secured silver in the Over-40 and Over-55 divisions, South African junior team member Chanelle Botha and Justin Maisch bagged bronze in the Under-20 and Over-35 divisions and Mike Burness finished fourth in the Over-45 division.