Hayley Nixon is still shocked to win coveted Athlete of the Year award
Hayley Nixon still finds it hard to believe she has just won the coveted Athlete of the Year award at the Momentum gsports Awards ceremony.
“It’s so awesome. It was amazing just to be nominated, and then to make the top-three finalists in of the category, against other phenomenal athletes, was mind-blowing,” she said.
“This sport, that is not mainstream; our chances were limited. I was honoured to be recognised by the female sports community.”
The Durban-born athlete is regarded as the best surf skier in the world, and now sits in the company of previous winners, including star world star athlete Caster Semenya and Banyana Banyana star Thembi Kgatlana.
“It is part of a journey that we are trying to recognise as Canoeing SA, and as surfski as a code. I understand that Ssurfski is a small sport but we don’t work any less hard, er, less tirelessly or less smarter than rugby, athletics or cricket. To finally be up there and to have our results recognised as worthy, is incredible,” she said.
To have been voted by the public as the athlete of the year, particularly because she competes in such a niche sport, has made it increasingly special for Nixon.
“This was definitely one of my most special awards. “These were public votes, a judging panel vote –and completely out of my control. Sometimes when you stand on the podium after a race you know that you had a big part in on how the race turned out. But with an award like this, I had no control,” she said.
Nixon’s rise has been incredible. Since taking up the sport in 2012, she has won several coveted awards, including being crowned the best female participant last year, as well as in the previous two years.
“I was part of the SA rowing squad training for the 2012 Olympics. I didn’t make the cut, and at the age of 28 I realised I needed to move back home and get a stable job. But then I realised I was still passionate about competing, and I was lucky to be introduced to surkfski and canoeing by some paddlers here in Durban,” she said.
“I wasn’t great when I started, I could barely stay up on the boat. But I trained every day, with a full-time job, and but I slowly worked my way through the ranks. I managed to sneak into the team that travelled to the 2015 World Surfski Champs in Tahiti. I raced my heart out, learnt a lot.
“I won the world champs in 2017, and 2018/2019 was just unbelievable; only losing one race in 12 or 13 races. I am still learning but this win tops off an incredible few years on the water.”
But becoming a world surfski world champion in surfski has not been an easy task. Now that she is pregnant, she is taking her first break from the sport in 15 years.
“For 15 years there has been a goal, a World Cup, world champs. It has been incredibly hard work and I have done it all with a full-time job over the last seven years, so the gsport award makes it very special.”
Nixon is a full-time biokineticist, biokenticist, and balancing her work and her sport athletics has been hugely demanding. “Unfortunately the sport is not professional; we all have to work full-time to keep up in the sport.
“Those of us who are fortunate to have sponsors have been able to travel and race,” she said. “I have always had to work full-time. We don’t do it for the big pay check, but because we love it. That motivation is so pure so you make it happen. I learnt early on to focus on quality rather than quantity in my training.”
But despite having to be in the water for long hours at a time, Nixon does not mind having to be in the water for many hours while training.
“I have always enjoyed the water; my dad always says I would swim laps in the pool before I could walk. My happiest place is always by the water; whether I’m paddling, rowing or just chilling on the beach.”
She adds that she also shares a deep connection with the ocean. “There is something very special about the water. They say the best vitamin is ‘Vitamin Sea’. There is something humbling and earthy about being in water. The ocean is an ever-changing, dynamic platform.”
“It is not a flat water course or black lanes of a swimming pool where everything is controlled.You can train as hard as you want to in one category of the ocean, and on the day you race it throws up something different.”
Nixon says her hope is that women athletes in South Africa are celebrated equally with compared to their male counterparts.
“Female athletes are not showcased and celebrated enough in South Africa. I don’t say that with bitterness. Finally women have been nurtured and are starting to compete but the media and support systems haven’t caught up with us.
“Every day in my career the male athletes get 98% percent of the attention, sponsors and media profiling. We need to try harder to change the narrative. There are incredible achievements by female athletes in the country, and we need to be more proactive by bringing that to the forefront and staying away from the default male route.”