Toughest Surfski


The Toughest Ocean Paddling Race in the World



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The Port Elizabeth to East London Challenge holds iconic status among South African paddlers as an ultra distance event where simply finishing is a victory.


Since the 1970’s, off the East Coast of Southern Africa, men of the South African Surf Lifesaving community have been taking on a monumental challenge every 24 Months. Known as “The Maker of Men”, “The Blood, guts & glory race”, “4 days of hell at sea” or simply “The Challenge” it has captivated the minds of the public through the sheer toughness and bravery of the competitors and the paddling community who offer deep respect to those who can say “I have done it”.



2024 “Challenge” update from a book being written about the race… “A race that has been held 25 times, but we think that there are still only as little as 350 people to have ever finished. In comparison, last year 15 000 runners completed the Comrades”


History from the 70’s…




History                                                                                          Early route map



Competitors in the Surf Ski Challenge are true masters of stamina, strength and courage – and they keep coming back for more!

The Surf Ski challenge is the ultimate contest between man and the elements of nature, a reputation that has enticed competitors back every time it has been staged.

“The real Challenge is pitting your fitness and skill against Mother Nature – a fickle lady – Currents, surf, heat, wind and Blue Bottles all pose potential threats.  The race takes the paddlers 250km over 4 days from Port Elizabeth to East London in South Africa along some of the most beautiful, but harshest coastline in the world.



“The Challenge”


Day 1

Blue Water Bay Surf Lifesaving Club to Woody Cape Beach

Paddle distance: 76 km

Paddle Time for winners: 5 1/2 hours

The first day of the race is the longest: nearly 75km from Blue Water Bay to the notorious Woody Cape.  Woody Cape is notorious for its huge surf  and over the years has been the graveyard of many a surfski, it features at the forefront of the paddlers’ thoughts – imagine paddling 75km only to smash your ski on the way in to the beach.

And worse – you lie in your tent listening to the boom of the waves, knowing that next morning you have to go out through it…

Day 2

Woody Cape Beach to Port Alfred

Paddle distance: 54 km

Paddle Time for winners: 4 hours

The last 5km of this day sees rogue breakers that rear up unexpectedly well out to sea – catch the waves and you’re flying; get it wrong and you’re swimming, potentially with a broken boat.  And you still have to negotiate a substantial shore break and rip currents to get to the finish.

Day 3

Port Alfred to Hamburg

Paddle distance: 68 km

Paddle Time for winners: 5 ½ hours

This is the toughest day in the race.  Both physically – the paddlers are all tired, no matter who they are – and the end is not yet in sight.  Day 4 is much easier – it’s shorter and the end is just around the corner…  Day 3 is a mind bender.

And there’s surf!  A point break can provide a ride all the way into the beach – sometimes though, it closes out from the right and drives you onto the rocks.

Day 4

Hamburg to East London (Orient Beach)

Paddle distance: approx 58 km

Paddle Time for winners: 4 to 5 hours

Getting out at Hamburg can be fun; just when you think you’ve got over the back line, a rogue set can come through to take you back to the start…  Start over, do not pass Go.



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Rob Wilmot and I finish 14th in the 2000 edition of the PE to EL Challenge



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