Estera Little Grand Race 2019 participants. Click to enlarge.

“My body is broken,” Andre Slabbert acknowledged after completing a grueling ocean crossing, kitesurfing through 18-foot swells to win the race from Little to Grand Cayman.

Mr. Slabbert, 33, led the field in the Estera Little Grand Race 2019, setting a new record for the distance at five-and-a-half-hours.

He was among a group of 16 kiters and support crews that took part in the “Kite 4 Cancer” event, which aims to raise more than $200,000 for the Cayman Islands Cancer Society. So far, the kiters have raised just over $160,000 and hope to hit their fundraising target through a charity auction at Abacus on March 13.

Mr. Slabbert said the conditions had been tough.

“I can hardly walk today,” he said.

“It was rough out there. There were certain patches where there were very large swells.”

Mr. Slabbert, who works for title sponsor Estera, said the race, which departed from Little Cayman at 7 a.m. Saturday, was a mental as well as physical challenge.

“For five hours you don’t see shore. It is just open ocean,” he said. “You have no point of reference because it is just a desert of water.”

The South African-born kitesurfer completed the course in 2016, the only other time the race was held. This time, he knocked more than three hours off his time. He said the main aim was to complete the course and raise money for charity.

But, he added, “As soon as they said it was a race. I said I am going to train hard and try to win it.”

It was not plain sailing for everyone, however.

Amy Strzalko, one of the organizers of the event, said the sea conditions had been “ferocious.” There were times during the crossing when she couldn’t see the safety boat, the swells were so high. She was forced to abandon the effort around three-quarters of the way through, suffering from severe back pain after several bad wipeouts.

Among those to complete the course was Cora Schwendtke, who made it to the Rum Point finish line in 10 hours, 14 minutes. Her Garmin GPS watch showed she had tacked through a winding course of nearly 112 miles. As the crow flies, the distance between the two islands is 83 miles.

A relay team of three junior kiteboarders, all under 15, also completed the course.

Kitesurfer Jake Serpell hugs his mother Milly after he completed the crossing from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman on Saturday. – Photo: Julie Corsetti

“It was incredible for three kids to get through something like that. They did an amazing job,” Ms. Strzalko said.

She said the event had gone smoothly with no major incidents, and the safety and contingency plans put in place by race safety director Simon Barwick working seamlessly.

“Not everybody finished,” she said, “but everybody got back on their safety boat. It is not easy to retrieve a person, a kite and a board from the open ocean in those kind of seas, but we did it thanks to our training and our excellent safety crews.

“It wasn’t easy for the guys on the boats either. Everybody is going to be in a little bit of pain today.”

Ms. Strzalko said she was delighted with the amount of money raised and hopes to get over the $200,000 threshold at the live auction, which includes thousands of dollars worth of items, including kiteboards painted by artists Guy Harvey, Hannah Cook and Dave Bridgeman.

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