Known to have a taste for adventure, Zack had completed a trek to the South Pole earlier this year,“When we got back to the base at Union Glacier, I meet two guys who had just kited across Antarctica via the Pole. As a kitesurfer with a newly discovered thirst for adventure, I was immediately inspired,” he recalls. “Ponto to Durban not only ticked all the boxes but also gave us an opportunity to explore our incredible coastline.”
After very little convincing, Ross was in and plans for the adventure began. They began equipping themselves with all the necessary gear, including a GPS tracking device, various communication devices and, of course, kites and boards for different wind conditions. “Most of the preparation is mental,” says Zack, “The ability to be uncomfortable for hours on end, to keep going while you are dog tired and to stay positive all the way is far more important than anything else.”
In addition to organisational help from The Unlimited, a financial services company who sponsored the adventure, the guys also had backing from an excellent ground support team.
A kitesurfing adventure for the history books.
“The single biggest danger is the combination of poor or light winds, big swells and a rocky shoreline. Another significant risk is being stranded out to sea with no wind, particularly as the South African coastline is one of the most shark dense coastlines in the world.”
The two set off from Ponto do Ouro and almost immediately had a run-in with a shark, but with excellent conditions they flew through to Sodwana Bay on the first day completing an 87 kilometre leg.The following day they continued down one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in South Africa to complete a distance of 67 kilometres, beaching at Cape Vidal.
“Day two’s start was insane - crystal clear water and some really good waves,” Zack recalls.“When we started off the mission the coastline was pretty much pristine and untouched. Visually it is spectacular and probably looks as it has for millennia. But as we got further South the development and impact of man becomes more prominent. Saddest of all is the titanium mines north of Richards Bay which has left permanent scars on the landscape.”
While the pair sat on the beach at Cape Vidal waiting for the wind to pick up they had lunch at the Jolly Rubino wreck. The pair then struggled down the coast, battling gusty winds, with Zack also fighting a sore knee. After pushing through they eventually fell 22 kilometres short of Richards Bay, beaching at Nhlabane.
As they progressed down the Coast the situation became very dangerous when the wind dropped right off while the two were about three kilometres out to sea.
“Mtunzini has a seriously high shark population and we got stuck with absolutely no wind. This left us bobbing around on the surface. You start to feel very vulnerable very quickly and you have to just take the shocks from the Shark Pod, as turning it off was not an option. At one stage I could literally see the whites in Ross’ eyes from about 200 metres away. The memory of Ross getting repeatedly zapped by his shark pod, with resulting cursing and blaspheming, still makes me giggle.”
Shark pods emit an electric pulse. The theory is that the sensory receptors on shark’s noses are extremely sensitive and that the pods cause them huge discomfort when they get too close. “The biggest trouble with them is that you also get zapped. It’s not that painful but it gives you a huge fright every time. Very little conclusive research has been done as to exactly how effective they are, but I was certainly very glad to have them when we were stranded off Mtunzini,” Zack says.
Fortunately, after a lot of frantic effort and sometime in the water, they were able to get the kites relaunched, eventually beaching at Amatikulu, where they spent the next few days waiting for a wind that seemed unlikely to ever come.
When the wind eventually came, the guys immediately pumped up their kites and got ready to set off aiming to finish the adventure with a last 110 kilometre stint.“We made good progress that day but as we approached Zinkwazi the wind dropped again.” The pair was forced to beach at Umhlanga. “It was super frustrating as we were so close but couldn’t do anything.”
Just as it seemed they would fall just a few kilometres short of their ultimate goal the guys managed to sneak across the Bay, finally completing their journey.
“It's been an incredible adventure with so many highlights,” says Zack. “Topping my list was probably having lunch at the Jolly Rubino, traversing the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and coming face to face with a whale and her calf literally flopping around on the surface.”
What started out as a personal challenge very quickly changed when they realised how inspired others were by what they were doing. “Most people wish they could do more with their lives yet they spend hours and hours watching TV and complain about having no time. Ross and I are not top athletes, we’re just regular guys. We have a beautiful country that’s available to everyone. I want to encourage people to get out there and see it, to challenge themselves - you would be surprised just how much you are capable of when you put yourself to the test.”