Every July quite a few crazy paddlers get together to race 244km from Paarl to Veldrif in the infamous Berg River Marathon. It is testament to how difficult the race is when you see the entry field is usually between 100-200 paddlers, and other “tough” marathons like the Dusi get over 1000 paddlers.
Personally, the Berg is one of the toughest multi-day paddling events in the world, not just for it’s distance (the 3rd day is 73km) but for the varied weather and river conditions you might get. Anything from ice on your K1 in the morning and snow on the mountain, to hot sunny days, and a river that can be flooding, or dreadfully low and painfully slow. Weaving in and out of the forest of trees tends towards a whole new skill set, and some of the Cape guys have made this their speciality.
The best parts of the Berg River race are the second section of Day 1, and the whole of Day 2. The guys in WCCU have made this into a race called the Swartland Marathon (Swartland being the region the river flows through). It is always well organised, with loads of safety and great post race food (yes, that is a factor!).
This year, the event also served as the SA K1 Champs. I hadn’t been on the river since 2011 and I was looking forward to seeing how much had changed in the channels, and how many new tree blocks had appeared.
I had planned on getting there early on the Friday, and was going to meet Gavin White for a quick recce of the tree section, unfortunately our car broke down about 250km into the 500km trip! We were rescued by Gavin on his white horse (VW Polo) and ended up in Cape Town for the evening. Thanks Gav and Daniella for all your help!
A chilly morning, and beautiful snow on the mountains greeted us at the Day 1 start, a 39km stretch from Schooltjie to Zonquasdrift. My friend the Kalahari Lion (Gawie, actually his amazing wife) helped us by taking my super second (my mom) to Paarl to fetch a rental. In the meantime Gavin and I got ready to brave the cold.
I had a super day, I was seeded in the B batch, which meant I would be surrounded by paddlers more or less my speed, and more importantly, who knew the river and all her channels/blocks!
After a fun day of hard racing, I finished with a group of guys positioned from 14-17th, so I started day 2 in elapsed time. It was seriously cold on Sunday morning, luckily sunny skies were on the cards.
I had a slow start, and ended up having 2 “unstuck” moments in some tree blocks, but managed to stay in my boat and catch back up after my mistakes.
I ended the day in 19th position overall and 1st woman. This is my 3rd SA K1 title in a row, after winning Swartlands in 2011, and The Fish in 2012. Not bad for a SurfSki paddler 😉
Lee McGregor had an amazing race, at 61 year of age, he powered through the field, having started way back in C Batch, to end up 7th Overall! I look forward to seeing how he goes on the Berg in 3 weeks time!
Thanks to the organisors and their team for putting on a great event. It was a pity that as a National Championship it had no prize money, but I suppose that is a sign of the times. All in all a great event to be a part of!
Thanks mom for being my super second!
Next up, SurfSki World Champs in Portugal in July!!!