by Jeremy Proome
What do you get when you throw a bunch of former and current sporting heroes, along with some good banter, in a head-to-head battle of supremacy in three different sporting events? A lot of chaos, but more importantly, the Oakley X-Over Challenge.
The Oakley X-Over presented by Seartec, held in Jeffrey’s Bay, thrusts together the likes of Bob Skinstad, John Smit, Ryan Sandes, Greg Minnaar, Gareth ‘Soldier Boy’ McLellan, Dale Steyn, David Miller, Kevin Evans, Raynard Tissink, Tom Whitaker, Lance Isaacs, Ruan de Smidt, and Butch James, who came out victorious in last year’s event. Mixing it up even further, Plettenberg local Wihann Kotze was added to the roster after winning a social media competition.
The order of the days included a mountain bike trail at Impala Lodge, followed by a round of golf at the prestigious and downright-beautiful St Francis Links course, capped off by the lads braving the waves at J-Bay’s Point beach.
Given the cold, wet and grueling weather of Day 1, it was clear the guys weren’t in for an easy time, and the baptism of fire began immediately with the mountain-bike event. Some crashes, slow-punctures (both bodily and on the bikes) made for an interesting event, until SA cycling legend Kevin Evans showed his eternal class and pushed ahead to take first, while Greg Minnaar, fresh off winning his 18th downhill MTB World Cup, was right behind in second. Wildcard winner Wihann Kotze slotted into third, showing that he wasn’t just there for autographs.
There wasn’t too much time for the three to soak up the glory, though, as it was straight onto the St Francis Links to see how the fellas fair on the course. Tricky, unforgiving yet incredibly serene, the Links will punish you while you gawk at the alluring surroundings.
A lot of divots, splashes and groans of anger ensued from the majority, but rather unsurprisingly, professional golfer Ruan de Smidt played a stellar game, and grabbed first spot, with Aussie surfer Tom Whitaker coming in second and showing he’s competent both in and out of the water. Rugby World Cup winner Butch James secured third spot, which would keep him in contention going forward.
One thing that became immediately evident during the event was that the Oakley X-Over was more about the camaraderie, love of sport and company rather than the results, and an evening braai to calm the nerves before the morning’s surfing event emerged just that.
The spirit of a school sports tour was alive and well on the evening, with some verbal swordplay, personal catch-ups and laughs at the day’s events were on the cards. And of course, the banter was as good as the meat, and that’s always a good thing.
Friday morning brought arguably the most discussed moment of the event, as the squad headed to Point beach to take on J-Bay’s iconic surf. A glorious day brought a sizable crowd to spectate the proceedings. Red Bull DJs were on hand to deliver some pleasure to the ears and it set the stage for some great action to follow.
There was great support from the other competitors for each contestant as they headed into the waves, with cheers (and the occasional chirp) bringing out the best in each other.
While each athlete had their moment getting on (or falling off) the board, local wildcard Wihann Kotze stunned everybody by putting in an inspired performance to take first spot. This, in conjunction with his third place in the MTB event, crowned him as the overall winner of the Oakley X-Over, showing that the event really is about diversity and unpredictability.
The Oakley X-Over was an incredible success this year, but more so than the points, logs and results, it showed that the spirit of friendship, fun and mutual respect is alive and well in past and present sports heroes in South Africa, and that’s worth more than any trophy.