Around 200 athletes representing over 26 nations gathered in Wanning on Hainan island, China for the 2018 International Surfing Association’s (ISA) SUP and Paddleboard World Championships.

Fermanagh man Mark Hurst travelled to China with Team Ireland to compete in the SUP 18km distance race in his first World Championships, having taken up SUP competitively only two years ago, following 22 years of playing rugby. He has been training hard over the past 12 months both in Lower Lough Erne and Grand Canal Docks, Dublin.

However, preparations were far from ideal after Mark fully ruptured his achilles tendon in a football match three days after qualification in July. Post surgery, he endured six weeks in a cast and six weeks in a boot, before he started to walk on 15 October.

“After qualifying at this years’ Irish nationals, I was looking forward to visiting China and competing for the island of Ireland on the world stage. When I ruptured my achilles in July, I knew the European Championships in September were out of the question, but when I suggested to the physio that I was still aiming to go to the World Championships in November, I was encouraged when she didn’t laugh at the suggestion,” he said.

On November 1, he made the decision to give it a shot and he flew to China on November 18.

“In China, I had a bit of mixed fortune in my preparation. My achilles was probably at 40 per cent - it was still painful to walk and very swollen especially after the three flights to get to Hainan Island, but I had a sprint start and finish and two to three hours of balancing in choppy waters to get through. I also had to deal with practising on five different borrowed boards (as the airline refused Team Ireland’s 12’6” race boards), a delayed and then subsequently broken paddle and some interesting food (including chicken feet).”

However, a typhoon was forecasted to hit the island which meant the 18km distance race got rescheduled from November 24 to December 1 which worked well for Mark.

“This gave me a little extra time to reduce the swelling on my achilles and to get used to my equipment (and get my paddle repaired) and the conditions. Also, the board issue led me to making some really good friends with the other countries and I am very grateful to Team New Zealand’s Maddie McAsey for lending me her board for my race. And I survived the chicken feet!”

Mark managed to place 32nd in the world in a time of 2 hours 35minutes. He still has a lot of rehab to get his achilles back to 100 per cent, but was looking forward to getting home for Christmas to see his family and friends and to paddle in Fermanagh and surf in Donegal.

“It was a testing journey for me to be able to join the start line and it was a brutal 18km battle in the South China Sea which saw some top international racers fail to finish (including former medal winning Kiwi Trevor Tunnington and Team GB’s Aaron Rowe), but Fermanagh folk are made of more, I am glad I persevered and did better than I expected to finish 32nd in the world,” he stated.