Clark ‘super stoked’ about stealing the show at SA Champs

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Quintin van Jaarsveld

Heather Clark’s legend continues to grow after the “Queen of South African surfing” starred at the 2017 Mercedes-Benz South African Surfing Championships in East London last week.

The legendary Port Shepstone surfer was in vintage form and the undoubted star of the 52nd edition of the national showcase, which featured over 150 surfers from eight districts.

“Fergie” posted the highest heat score of the opening day at Nahoon Reef on Tuesday, a remarkable 19 out of a possible 20 points, and went on to add another national women’s Over-30 title to her unrivalled résumé at the same break on Sunday.

The goofy-footed great nearly did a rare double as she narrowly missed out on her ninth South African Open title (the last coming in Richard’s Bay in 2015) to Olivia Brand in a thrilling final.

This, however, did little to take away from what was a wonderful week for evergreen Clark, who at 46 years of age, looked as if she hadn’t skipped a beat.

In a trail-blazing career that includes two world masters championships, multiple South African titles, over 14 years on the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour, being ranked third in the world and being the only South African surfer to ever win the prestigious Hawaiian Triple Crown, Clark claimed a career-first in the form of the Surfer of the Contest award.

Clark dominated both the Open and Over-30 divisions heading into Sunday’s finals, winning all of her heats with mostly eight and nine-point waves.

Fantastic 4-5 foot waves welcomed the cream of the crop to finals day, which saw Clark put on a masterclass to win the Over-30 crown in dominant fashion with a heat total of 18.75.

Michelle van Kempen (12.2) was a distant second, with Lynne Mackey (10.65) and Tasha Mentasti (8.05) finishing third and fourth respectively.

“I’ve worked really hard over the last couple of months, spending time in the water and getting my fitness level up, and it paid off,” Clark told eHowzit.

“I’m over the moon to win another masters title. The conditions were tricky; the paddles were hard and even though we had good waves, they were tricky, so I’m super stoked to have another SA title under my belt.

“I was really relaxed in the water and just enjoying it. Surfing the Open semi-finals earlier and having a free surf before we started today made me more relaxed and comfortable.

“I knew how far the waves were breaking and where to sit. The more time you put in out there in the water, the better, and that put me on the right track. Every wave was the bomb and I think everybody enjoyed it out there.”

PICS and VIDEOS: Legendary Clark claims another SA title in style

The Open final that followed was a thrilling affair, Brand (17.25) shading Clark (16.75) with Danica Stockigt (11.35) and Maya Shefer Boswell (8.95) placing third and fourth respectively.

“It’s always great competing in the Open division against all the up-and-coming girls. They keep me on my toes and I think I keep them on their toes,” said Clark.

“I really wanted to try to do a double whammy to wrap it up after the good heats I had throughout the contest, but it wasn’t to be.

“Olivia surfed a great final and I’m happy for her and proud of her. It might be her first one, but it won’t be her last. She was ripping out there and deserved to win, and the other girls in the final surfed really well as well.”

In a week full of highlights, the one that topped them all for Clark was being acknowledged as the Surfer of the Contest.

“I’ve always wanted to get my grubby paws on this tiger trophy. There’s some big names on the trophy and the trophy itself is so awesome, so when they made the announcement, I was super honoured and super stoked.”

Clark has had a surfing love affair with East London ever since she won her maiden South African title at Nahoon Reef back in 1989.

She said she loved being back competing where it all began, adding she was thrilled to continue her winning ways at the break where she won the same title the last time it played host to the national championships in 2014.

“I have a special place in my heart for East London. It’s an awesome wave and very similar to my home break, St Mike’s. Winning a SA title is always special, but to come over and win it here is extra special.”

Clark has in recent years channeled all her energy into grooming future champions through her surf school, Heather Clark Surf Adventures.

Her astonishing ability to remain the gold standard of South African women’s surfing, she feels, is a by-product of her passion for and hours spent coaching kids and due to her love for the sport that has made her a national icon.

“Surfing is and always have been my life. God gave us this huge playground to play in and we might as well make the most of the waves and play around on them.

“My main focus is giving back to the sport with my surf school and being the best coach I can be for the next generation. That just so happens to help me as well, but for me it’s all about helping the next wave of local surfers.”

She added she was proud of the Ugu Surfriders team, who punched above their weight as one of the smaller sides to finish fifth in the Champions Cup, and had special praise for 19-year-old Cody Coetsee, who ousted big names en route to bagging Open division bronze in his debut open national championships.

“Our team did fantastic and if we had a full team, I think we would’ve given the other provinces a real run for their money. Every member of the team did a great job, but young Cody in particular was phenomenal and we’re very proud of him.

“It’s been an amazing event. It was very well run and the contest director and judges made the right call as to where the contest must be on each day. Well done to everyone who competed because the standard was really high this year.”

Photos by Menize Hattingh

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