In 1996 Nigel Hopkins flew for the first time in a SAPFA Rally Championships together with his navigator Dale de Klerk.
He won some of the Regional Championships in 1996 and for his first attempt at the SA Championships he became SA Champion. With this performance he was selected to be part of the National Team to represent South Africa in the First World Air Games and World Championships that were held in Turkey.
Then in 1997 he also participated in some Precision Flying and Rally Flying Championships, and he always came in the top three places.
At the World Air Games, his first international competition, he came tenth out of 83 pilots, and the SA Team came 4th overall out of 23 countries.
For this performance and outstanding sportsmanship Nigel Hopkins was chosen as Pilot of the Year for 1997.