Lost in the Tropics - Mauritius Ocean Classic 2011

There were two dodgy looking characters standing on the other side of the railing as we pushed our luggage trolleys out of the arrivals terminal at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport. One of them was tall and skinny with long dark hair and pale skin. He was wearing a black leather jacket and had a motorbike helmet tucked under his right arm. The second bloke looked like the “after” picture in that advert from that nutritional supplement company which promises big muscles and rock hard abs in six weeks. It must have been week ten for him because the abs had since morphed into one single pot belly and his now sizable chest and arms were covered in a layer of easy living. Both wore gold chains around their necks and had cheesy Chinese tattoos. I wasn’t much surprised to see that Mr Muscle was holding a blue clipboard with the name “Clinton Pretorius” written on it.

Muscle Man introduced himself as Stan. He talked with a ridiculous Aussie/ French accent that nearly made me laugh out loud. As he walked us around the back of the airport to our rental car, I gave Lightie a look which made him say “What Tomo? It’s cheap.”

The stereotype I was compiling for Stan was further strengthened by the Ferrari red Hyundai Accent that now stood in front of us. It had an exhaust pipe you could block with a coconut and a racing filter which made her engine whistle. Matt black mag wheels with low profile tyres and tinted windows gave her that Blue Lagoon street racer feel. We named her “The Red Loman.”

The Red Loman

The Red Loman

“If you geet stopped by the coppers, just tell dem you borrowing it from a mate ah.” As Stan was going through the usual pre- black-market-car-rental admin, I was desperate to know how Lightie had managed to organise this one. “Oh yeah, if you crash just give me a call ay. Ah let’s make the excess 15 000 Rupees ay?” Without signing an autograph or even touching a pen for that matter, we were off.

Racing down the windy sugarcane lined roads of Southern Mauritius I could tell that Lightie was feeling right at home. We drove through slums, dodging little men on motor-powered bicycles, with helmets that were far too big. Occasionally groups of heavies, who were playing dominoes and smoking marijuana on the side of the road, would wave at us as we sped past. It was more of a familiar acknowledgement than a greeting and it made me wonder what else Stan did for work.

Behind me sat Dom Notten, a freakishly talented 16 year old I train with back home. I’d invited him along for the ride and at that moment he was definitely getting his money’s worth. Dom doesn’t talk much at the best of times and I don’t think he did anything but breathe on that one hour drive to Black River. The antithesis of Dom, Clint “Lightie” Pretorius couldn’t stop talking. He’s an easily distracted, hyperactive freak of an athlete and one hell of an exciting person to drive with. Double clutching on every gear change and dodging livestock, people and buses with one hand on the steering wheel. I had to remind him to keep his eyes on the road a few times to. I must admit it’s the most phantom breaking I’ve ever done in any passenger seat.

The coastal road which runs between Souilliac and Tamarin is truly breath taking. Parts of it remind me of the North Shore in Hawaii. Other parts, the places I dreamt tropical would look like as a little boy. Tall coconut palms break up the monotony of rolling hills of sugarcane. Every now and again you pass through areas of natural vegetation which will make you feel like you might just bump into Tarzan and Jane. Massive fig trees rise up out of the dirt like giant green jellyfish. We had fun swinging from the thick vines which hang from their branches. Mangrove swamps clog the entrances of small rivers which run down the slopes of black rock volcanic mountains.

It is however the ocean which is truly my favourite part of Southern Mauritius. Areas of calm turquoise Indian Ocean rest in massive lagoons that stretch out for kilometres in some places. The lagoons are never more than a few feet deep and are filled with all the corals and sea life that you would expect to find in any tropical paradise. You’ll find flotillas of rickety old fishing boats all along the coast, moored in the calm waters of these lagoons.

It’s beyond the lagoons where the real treasure for us watermen is found. The deep blue Indian Ocean moves freely and spontaneously, uninhibited by bays or large landmasses. Ocean swells built in the far south unload themselves onto the islands outer crust. Find a kink in this crust and you may just ride some of the best waves of your life. Further out, the wind is free to whip up a storm. On a good day it might blow for hundreds of kilometres, tickling the ocean’s surface relentlessly all the way. You might just ride some of the best runs of your life on a day like that.

As you can imagine it is very easy to become distracted in this sort of environment. As a group of elite athletes we were in Mauritius for one reason, to race.  Months of preparation and sacrifice, combined with a desire to satisfy a fierce competitive disposition – an animal like desire to savage and slaughter our adversaries, to prevail as the dominant victor – had brought us to this point in time. We should have been edging to go but the usual pre battle atmosphere was strangely absent. Maybe we were all a bit lost in a dreamland?

Race day and that ever elusive element of nature we call WIND greeted us with the rhythmic monotony that is so typical of the tropics. It wasn’t blowing out of the typical South Easterly direction though, so the course was changed. We were to race twenty one kilometres from Flic en Flac to Le Morne along Mauritius’s west coast. This one was going to be a downwind and most of the world’s best downwind paddlers were there to fight it out.

For me all the pre-race pandemonium disappears as soon as I get onto the water. There’s nothing to think about, no body to talk to. It’s just you, your boat and a 21 kilometre of open ocean. It’s not lonely; in fact I find it quite comforting.

We raced hard. Dawid went out like a rocket and we chased him. Closing the gap was a matter of fighting for every metre. Those hard earned metres we made he took back with bursts of power and skill that were true to his title of world champion. In the end none of the field was able to catch Dawid. It was his day in paradise.

Afterwards we shook hands like gentlemen and congratulated the day’s victor. That competitive disposition was subdued for the time being and there was nothing else to do but enjoy our surroundings.  That evening we surfed together as mates on the reef in front of the resort. The majority of the top dogs were out there together and we hooted and cheered for each other’s waves like over excited school boys. After catching one of the best waves of the evening, Daw paddled back out with a smile wider than a minibus and a twinkle in his eye. “This is the best surfski race in the world” he proclaimed. I couldn’t agree with you more bru!