The 2014 Hansa Fish River Marathon

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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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The Fish River Marathon, finally! (my race report and the win…)

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Shooting Gauging Weir the day before the race (thanks Barry Lewin for the photo)

The Hansa Fish River Marathon is a special race to me. It is in my home Province of the  Oos Kaap (Eastern Cape), it is super fun (lots of rapids, some testing flatwater and even some portaging, thrown in with 2 nights of awesome bands and a super party and you have the perfect race), and it was my first ever “river” experience.

Back when I was 15, and had only really paddled a surf ski, and a small bit of flatwater canoeing, my coach at the time, the late Daniel Conradie, mentioned that I should come with to Cradock for this river race. It was a pre-Fiish race, we started at the old Soutpans Weir (just a big drop-off, no chute). The women started 5minutes before the men, and off I went. I swam at the drop, and battled to find a nice place to get back in, which meant the whole field got away from me. On my own, I started slowly paddling down the river again, trying desperately to remember what Daniel had said in the car about what was coming next, and which way to go.Fortunately the guys caught up with me, and even though I was frantically aiming for the portage at Soutpans Bridge, a screaming Daniel convinced me to shoot, in front of him. I made it! My confidence soared, and I paddled with the men’s bunch for a while. That didn’t last, and once they had dropped me, I spent the next few hours stressing about what was around the next corner! (In those days there were no buoy lines marking the hazardous weirs you are not meant to shoot!)

Tripping (photo Barry Lewin)

Fast forward to 2012, and I made the trip to Cradock with Gavin White, hoping for a win. I have never won the Fish in a single. For most of my Olympic cycle, we would take September off from training, as we needed the break after a hard year of sprint training, meaning I missed the race for a few years. And then the past 2 years have been K2 years. The last time I was on a the Fish was in 2010, in a K2 with Robyn (actually that was the last time I was on a river!), so I must say my nerves were shot on the morning of the race. It was the least prepared I have ever been, with my last paddle over 25km being in July 2011, and no rough water paddling either. I managed to do a small amount of tripping, but was feeling pretty tired from the Worlds trip.

The race didn’t start that well, with a stupid swim at Double Trouble. After a surprisingly quick catch up to Robyn, the rest of the day went as planned. I kept my pace slow and controlled, not knowing how I would respond to 49km of paddling. At Katkop, I had a small gap and so I tried to maximize, and pretty much went as hard as I could from there to the finish. No swims, and a 3minute 15 second lead (buffer) for day 2.

Start of Day 2 (Photo by Front Row Photography)

Day 2 was all about being conservative. I had a large buffer, and had the luxury of portaging anything that mind cause a problem for me. We started in elapsed time with the men, and I had a group behind me that caught me fairly fast. I had some time in a bunch before even faster guys caught up, and the casualty of the bunch was me. I was feeling the effects of the 49km the day before, and I rather went on my own, at my own pace. I crossed the line, in my 7th Fish, finally in first!  Very stoked!

 

Thanks Albert and Hennie from Knysna Racing for seconding me, and for the great boat and paddle! Also to Gav, Baz and crew for the seconding company! The organizers did their usual fantastic job of putting on a great event. And thanks to Hansa for continually supporting The Greatest Race in the World!

Fish article on www.paddle365.com

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Eray targets Hansa Powerade Fish to end her best season ever – Written by Dave Macleod Friday, 25 September 2009

Cradock – Cape canoeing star Michéle Eray has her sights firmly set on the Hansa Powerade Fish river canoe marathon next weekend for three reasons. She has never won the race, she regards it as the years paddling highlight, and the 82km marathon will mark the end of a long year and the start of a well earned rest.

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Michéle Eray will be focusing her energies on sharpening her river skills ahead of the Hansa Powerade Fish river canoe marathon, which is also deciding the SA K1 river championships for 2009. (Justin Vellacot/ Game plan media)

The cheerful 30 year old former Plettenberg Bay resident now living in Cape Town has three second places and a third place in this key race to her credit, and wants to add the K1 title to the long list of victories that she has notched up in the past twelve months. She has been unbeaten in surf ski races since snatching international titles in Hong Kong and the lucrative Dubai Shamaal last year, and went on to win the prestigious Drakensberg Challenge on the technically demanding Umzimkulu river in February.

Eray has just jetted home after taking part in the world marathon champs, where she raced well but was unable to reproduce her medal winning performance of her last outing at that level. With the Hansa Powerade Fish deciding the SA K1 river championship titles this year, Eray is aiming for the two day event in Cradock as a final peak before a well earned rest. “It has been a long, long year, and my body is telling me that I need a break,” said Eray. “I am genuinely feeling tired but there is absolutely no way that I am going to miss this race.”

Eray will start as one of the favourites in the women’s title, alongside Czech Republic ace Katerina Vacikova and another Olympian Jen Hodson, KZN ace Tiffany Kruger and Maties student Robyn Kime, while the current national K1 marathon champion Brigitte Hartley will not be on the startline as she is holidaying in France. “It’s hard to tell who is going to be a factor in this years women’s race,” Eray added. “There will be the usual frantic dash to Keith’s Flyover, but the first day is a long, long way, and that usually sorts the contenders out.”

Eray is eyeing Vacikova with interest. The Czech wild water ace has won the K2 title twice in succession with Micha Mruskova, and is focusing on her K1 skills as she makes her singles debut on the Fish. “She will probably shoot Keith’s and make it, while a lot of other girls opt for the portage. We will have to see whether she has the distance in her after that. It’s going to be very interesting.”

Apart from the attraction of the SA championship medals, Eray has a deep seated desire to win the Hansa Powerade Fish title, particularly as she has spent much of her competitive life in the Eastern Cape. “It’s easily the best race of the year, and you can see that in the size of the entry again. But I have come second and third too often and I am a little sick of that,” she said impishly.

She will be focusing her training on river skills in the build-up to the Fish, and after a weekend training on the Bontebok, she will spend several days in Cradock preparing on the race course. “I actually haven’t been on moving water since the Drak Challenge, so that is my priority now,” said Eray. However this echoes her sentiments before the Drak this year, where her cool head and technical river skills saw her win that race on debut while all her challengers succumbed to the challenges of the mountain river. “A good result in this year’s Fish would be the perfect end to a long, long year, before I have to get to form again for the defence of my Dubai Shamaal title” said Eray. The Hansa Powerade Fish starts at Grassridge dam on Friday 2 October and ends in Cradock on Saturday 3 October.

More information can be found at http://www.fishmarathon.org.za