The 2014 Hansa Fish River Marathon

Soutpans Bridge
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Sitting in Oklahoma City last year, watching the race unfold via twitter feed, I definitely knew I would not let this year’s Fish River Marathon slip by without me being on the start line!

Cradock 2014

The whole experience is uniquely South African, from the arid and beautiful Karoo/Eastern Cape landscape, to the brown river winding through koppies and thorn trees, to the crazy river paddling culture. Not many countries in the world have a race where paddlers navigate seriously challenging raids in ICF-style racing K1′s and K2′s (this year even served as National K3 Championships!).

K3 shooting CRadock

The vibe is unlike any other race I have done, and definitely one to add to your Bucket List. I lined up for my 9th start in 20 years of paddling the river, anxious as the last time I had been on flowing water was the 2012 Fish! Nonetheless, I had a super fun 2 days with no swims, and felt really solid in my great Vantage K1 from Knysna Racing Kayaks.

Toastrack Bridge

Toastrack Bridge-Gotta bend low to miss smacking your noggin on that!

With a rather large buffer between myself and 3rd place, I had the luxury of portaging Cradock weir to avoid any chance of a mishap, although missing out on the thrill of that drop was a rather large sacrifice to make to ensure my race position.

Shooting Cradock in year's past

Shooting Cradock in year’s past

Cradock 2009

The event organizers chose to do a reverse order start, giving all of us racing in elapsed time and A batch a much appreciated lie-in, as we only got going at 1030AM. The idea was to have a bigger crowd of supporters at the finish when the race winners came in. I think I refer the earlier start rather, as a highlight of the race is going to Cradock weir after I’m done, and watching the masses shoot it.

Spectators watching paddlers negotiate Soutpans Bridge and the following rapid

Spectators watching paddlers negotiate Soutpans Bridge and the following rapid

With 2 nights of local South African bands playing, the whole weekend package is totally worth the trip.

(Check out Barry Lewin’s Blog for some cool video footage.)

Next year’s dates have been set, and unfortunately it looks a little tight to be able to make the trip back to SA from Tahiti, who is playing host to the 2nd edition of the ICF World SurfSki Champs.

I have a few more days here in my beautiful hometown Plett, and then it’s back to Oklahoma City!

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snowballs and wind chill factor

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Since moving to the US, I have had numerous “first experiences”.

snowboardingBasketball, Bull Riding, Thanksgiving, Snow, (driving in it, running in it, trying not to fall on my butt walking in it), Snowboarding, Cross Country skiing, freezing rain, chipping ice off my car window, paddling in minus 5, Superbowl, Walmart, driving on the right hand side of the road (no problem until I have to cross an intersection with none in front that I can follow), the imperial measurement system (great until you miscalculate your bench press weight and nearly get squished).

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I am not big on New Year’s Resolutions, but I am big on setting targets. My target for 2014 is to never shy away from a new experience, and to add many “firsts” to my list.

Strange how it is always easier to do what is familiar, what is comfortable. It’s human nature. In everything.

With training, you tend to always work at your strengths, because you are good at them, and hence either do well and/or enjoy that part of training. It’s a process of re-reinforcement, albeit an unhealthy one. How will you ever improve if you keep doing the things you are good at? To become a better athlete, you need to focus on your weaknesses, especially if they are your least favorite  part. Turn them into your strengths.

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In life, we are creatures of habit. Well I certainly am. Phenomenal athletes, successful business owners, excellent public speakers, and great leaders aren’t born with that skill set. They have worked hard, every day, for many years, to become that way. Which is great news. Because then anyone has the potential to become better at a skill.

So go out there, and do the thing that you find the hardest. Work at it a little every day, and become the athlete, person, friend, leader, role model you have always wanted to be.

Review mirror 2013

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It’s that time of year again, when I get to look back at the 365 days that flew by, and reflect on the millions of experiences that were a part of 2013. I also try and learn something from the choices I made, and the situations that were a result.

2013 was always going to be a big year paddling-wise, with the inaugural ICF SurfSki World Championships taking place in July, in Portugal. My paddling year was centered around this one event, and with that being said, here are the highs (and lows) from my year in paddling sports:

Photo by Balint Verkassy/ICF

ICF World SurfSki Championships, Portugal – 1st place in the tightest of finishes. Definitely my highest highlight from 2013. World Champion. Finally.

Here is the blog post from that event. The Top 3 women were all within 30 seconds, and all were South African, testament to the strength of the sport amongst South African females.

I had a total of 3 sprint finishes in 2013, run-ups the beach. I won 2/3. I have been working on my running, but I think these came down to grit more than running ability.

Thanks Nikki, Michelle and Bianca for pushing me to the wire!

In March, I traveled to a part of South Africa I had never seen before, and raced the Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon. Even more importantly, I got to know the Kalahari Lion, Gawie Niewoudt, and had 3 awesome days racing on the amazing Orange River.

GKCM 2013

I became National River Champion for the 3rd time, by winning the Swartlands Canoe Marathon. I really love this race, paddling through the trees on the best 2 days/stretches of the Berg River in the middle of a crisp Western Cape winter, with snow potentially on the mountains really epitomizes the Cape River season for me.

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Getting to do more than one type of paddling keeps me sane. Although I grew up in the ocean, and it will always be my true love, there is something really gratifying about mastering rapids in an unstable,  small piece of carbon and fiberglass. River paddling in South Africa is the ying to my surfski yang.

And then flat-water marathon is the purest form of racing. No hiding, no easy way out, no relaxing on the runs, no fun rapids to ease the pressure. Just tactics, fitness and ability.

The final part of the paddling year, saw me take on the World Marathon Champs in Copenhagen. Despite feeling particularly strong in the K2 with Bridgitte Hartley, we had unfortunate boat issues, and had to DNF. It was a frustrating and heart-breaking experience, and a definite low light of the year.

Finally, in December, I managed a trip back to South Africa to attend a friends wedding (watching two people that love each other make THE commitment was my other highlight of 2013!) and luckily got the timing right and managed to race both the Cape Town DownWind race as well as the infamous Cape Point Challenge.

CT 2013

Both were fantastic, with pretty epic conditions. Although under-prepared, I really enjoyed myself. Being back in the surfski and ocean after living in a land-locked state for 5 months was exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.

CPC 2013

The final event for 2013 was one that is close to my heart, the Sabrina Love Ocean Challenge, and this year was the 10th running it. R2.5 million was spent on children with special needs in my home town of Plettenberg Bay in 2013, an amazing achievement by this foundation, and one I am fortunate enough to be an ambassador for.

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This year I got to paddle with my buddy Giovanni Primo, and we had a great battle with Neal “Steel” Stephenson and Gabriel van Wyk.

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I also got to do a 10km trail run through the beautiful Kurland forest.

As much as I would love to paddle competitively forever, at some point you have to get a “real” job, and another major part of my 2013 was a move to a whole new continent, country, city and the beginning of a new phase of my career. Working for USA Canoe/Kayak has been a big step, and despite the daily struggle of not being next to the ocean, I am enjoying the optimism and positivity of the people here.nightskyline

This city is trying hard to create a more healthy lifestyle for its residents, and I love the attitude to change here in Oklahoma City.

As usual I am surprised at how fast the year flew by. My takeaway for 2013 is to make every moment count. It sounds cheesy, but life seems to be happening at ever increasing speeds!

Thanks for reading,

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Sea Fever by Tim Davies

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A film shot in the UK and Ireland

Winner : Best Short London surf film festival 2013

Music by Massive Attack – A Prayer for England

Poem John Masefield

 

A Life That Has Meaning

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“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.” John Gardner