As more than 200 contestants gear up for the Shek O Challenge open water race next weekend, we catch up with Craig Nortje, the 38-year-old swimming and paddling coach who was crowned champion of last year’s Challenge. Conquering 2.2km of ocean in just 31 minutes and 24 seconds, he won the race for the second year running, but will he be so lucky this time round?
How did it feel to be crowned champion of last year’s Challenge?
It was awesome to be crowned champion after swimming with Angus Kelleher, the 16-year-old schoolboy who very nearly beat me to the finish line. We swam neck and neck the whole way and I very narrowly beat him, so it was a close one.
What was your highlight of last year’s Challenge?
The highlight for me was being in the water and taking in Hong Kong from a totally different perspective. The view from the ocean is absolutely incredible.
How did you train for the Challenge?
I had been training hard in 2014 doing, on average, at least one swimming or dry land session a day, six days a week. This gave me a solid training base for the race, and I was probably doing four sessions a week prior to the 2015 race.
What is your background in sport and fitness?
I swam at school until I was introduced to water polo in high school, then focused on that as my major interest. At university I started paddling both down river and in the sea too. After moving to Hong Kong, I rediscovered swimming and enjoyed competitions in the pool and the open water.
What made you decide to take part in the Shek O Challenge?
I had first taken part in the Shek O Challenge a number of years ago in a surf ski. It was fun, but I did some calculations and realised I would be faster swimming so the following year I entered the swim and have done so every year since. I think this year will be my 6th time taking part.
What is the biggest challenge you face during the Challenge?
My biggest challenge is staying hydrated as it can be quite warm. The other fun challenge for the swim is during the start when we head out from the beach through the waves. This is one of the only races I know of in Hong Kong where you do this.
Why should people take part in the Shek O Challenge?
It’s a well organised and fun event. There are different disciplines that you can choose to compete in, and you can compete against friends and family, while still being part of a team together, and competing against other teams too. It’s a really fun afternoon out!
How did you celebrate your victory last year?
The post race party makes it easy to celebrate with music, food and drinks, friends, and fellow competitors.
Any tips for contestants taking part this year?
Yes, stay well hydrated and use lots of sunscreen.
Catch all the action at the 2016 Shek O Challenge which takes place on July 9 at Big Wave Bay and Shek O Beach. As well as a 2.2km swim, a 8.5km run and 9km paddle will be held simultaneously. Take a look at last year’s highlights below.
Click here for more information on this year’s Challenge.
Read more! Spend Five Minutes With some other colourful characters who are shaking up Hong Kong.