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!

Jenkins pips McGregor to remain unbeaten in Hansa Fish

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Cradock – Len Jenkins claimed a sixth victory in succession in the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon, pipping Hank McGregor to the finish line at the end of a titanic battle over two days and 82 kilometres, continuing his domination of the event in a K1 and in the process claimed the 2012 SA K1 title as well.

Jenkins and McGregor had been neck and neck for the majority of the event, which was doubling as the SA K1 river champs, and for the first time decades it came down to an end sprint to separate the pair with Jenkins getting the decisive jump on McGregor just meters from the finish line.

Jenkins, dubbed the “Fisher King” for his uncanny dominance in this race for more than a decade, was full of praise for his adversaries after seizing control of the race in the closing stages when McGregor was slowed by waves in the Golf Course rapids.

“I’d definitely rank my first win in 2001 as the most memorable but it’s still great to have one and it was nice to have a good race against Hank (McGregor),” said Jenkins.

“It was a different win. It was a really strong field this year and there were a lot of good guys here. Hank (McGregor) and Grant (van der Walt) are fantastic athletes so it was tough.”

“I tried not to do too much work today. With Grant (van der Walt) just behind us obviously he was always going to do his best to catch us and I could’ve tried to fight it but I decided to take it easy instead and it paid off for me in the end,” he added.
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Having started the day together the pair were then caught by van der Walt between Long Acre bridge and Gauging Weir and the three then made their way towards the notorious Cradock Weir.

Jenkins and McGregor then shot the major obstacle in the most unconventional manner when the two of them went over the weir at precisely the same time and remarkably both boats and paddlers paddled on unscathed with van der Walt left twenty meters off the pace.

“It used to be faster shooting from left to right but since they removed the sandbank its actually quicker the other way around now and so I made sure I was on the outside which gave me the chance to get going again first,” said Jenkins.

McGregor, however, was not done yet and put in a superb interval to catch and pace the defending champ. A rare mistake through Golf Course rapid by McGregor gave Jenkins the gap he needed and through he went.

“After Len got away at Cradock I managed to catch and pass him after a kilometer but then I just hit a couple of stopper waves at the bottom which really slowed me down and I just couldn’t get past again,” said McGregor.

“Full credit to him though. He’s a phenomenal paddler, especially on the Fish River, and deserved the win. He timed it right and it all worked out for him.”

“It was a good race though. It was close the whole way and was anyone’s race all the way up until Cradock Weir,” he added.

Van der Walt had to settle for the third step on the podium finishing fifty meters behind the leaders after a monumental effort on the second stage.

Local hero Greg Louw powered his way into fourth place ahead of Lance Kime and Cam Schoeman.

“I didn’t quite realize Cam (Schoeman) was that strong and Lance was just impossible to shake off,” said Louw. “Cam (Schoeman) had an unfortunate swim at Gauging Weir though and I went over Cradock Weir ahead of Lance and from there I just put my head down and managed to get clear.”

“There were six world champs in their various categories out there this year and only three of them finished ahead of me so I’m very chuffed,” he added.

Overnight leader in the ladies’ race, Michéle Eray, enjoyed a career highlight when she crossed the line ahead of former defending champ Robyn Kime, becoming the first Eastern Cape paddler to win the K1 title in fifteen years.

It is fitting that it is Eray who takes over the title from the late Daniël Conradie, who mentored her in her early years as a paddler.
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“I’m absolutely over the moon,” said Eray. “Daniël won the Fish when I was in matric so to now win the race myself all these years later and take over from him is amazing.”

“The Sella and the Fish were the last two races he won before he passed away in 1998 and I won the Sella earlier this year and now this just incredible,” she added.

The win was even sweeter for Eray after the former Olympian was forced out of action by a debilitating wrist injury for much of 2011 and this year’s event being her first major race, other than her efforts at the recent World Marathon Champs in Rome, since august last year.

“Obviously I haven’t exactly had the most ideal preparation for this race with not much time to train so I just had to go with what I knew,” said Eray.

“Today was meant to be easier with it being shorter but I actually felt worse than I did yesterday. I just tried to keep it at 90 percent throughout the day and a group of guys caught me early on so I stayed with them until my swim at Gauging Weir.”

“Fortunately I still had enough of a buffer to portage Cradock and I’m super stoked to have won,” she added.

Kime claimed the silver medal with her team Best 4 Kayak Centre team mate Abby Adie claiming bronze.

“I felt a little stronger today than yesterday but Mich (Eray) was just too good,” said Kime. “It was a great race though and as always it was lots of fun.”

“I also didn’t swim today which helps things and which doesn’t happen often for me.”

“I couldn’t see Mich (Eray) by the time I got to Cradock so decided just to go for it and it was great to make it cleanly,” she added.

Jenna Ward had a superb two days as she came home in fourth place with ICF World Marathon Series champion Hilary Pitchford rounding out the top five.

Grant van der Walt claimed the men’s under 23 title ahead of Lance Kime and van der Walt’s younger brother, Brandon whilst it was Robyn Kime, Abby Adie and Jenna ward who claimed first, second and third in the women’s under 23 encounter.

In the hotly contested junior boys category it was KZN’s Murray Starr who claimed the top spoils ahead of under 16 Louis Hattingh and Murray Haw. The junior girls race was just as tight with Jordan Peek claiming the title, Kerry Segal finished second and Kerry Shuter third.

International paddlers figured prominently once again, with Australian Josh Kippen sixteenth, just behind Czech Republic star Jakub Adam, who is committing five months to preparing for The Unlimited Dusi in February with his K2 partner Michael Odvarko, who finished nineteenth.

Olympic bronze medalist Brigitte Hartley, together with Nick and Paul Burden completed the event successfully together in a K3 whilst former Springbok captain Corné Krige completed his support of local schools when he crossed the line with race organizer Pieter Marais and Krige’s good friend Billy van Zyl.

SUMMARY OF RESULTS – HANSA FISH RIVER CANOE MARATHON
DAY TWO
Men Second stage time Overall time
1.Len Jenkins 2:09.51 5:01.41
2.Hank McGregor 2:09.51 5:01.41
3.Grant van der Walt 2:08.12 5:02.12
4.Greg Louw 2:11.38 5:08.07
5.Lance Kime 2:13.08 5:09.40
6.Cam Schoeman 2:13.57 5:10.27
7.Jacques Theron 2:12.48 5:10.52
8.Brandon van der Walt 2:14.33 5:15.11
9.Ant Stott 2:17.15 5:15.19
10.Thulani Mbanjwa 2:13.49 5:16.28
11.Mark Mulder 2:13.15 5:16.41
12.Ryan Louw 2:16.19 5:18.57
13.Pierre-Andre Rabie 2:16.51 5:21.45
14.Stuart McLaren 2:16.55 5:21.50
15.Jakub Adam (Czech Rep) 2:15.43 5:22.18
16.Josh Kippen (Aus) 2:15.46 5:22.23
17.Sibonelo Zondi 2:15.50 5:22.25
18.Alex Roberts 2:16.32 5:23.10
19.Michael Odvarko (Czech Rep) 2:16.21 5:25.42
20.Andrew Birkett 2:13.21 5:26.42

Women
1.Michéle Eray 2:24.13 5:39.58
2.Robyn Kime 2:23.42 5:42.39
3.Abby Adie 2:26.22 5:47.08
4.Jenna Ward 2:31.04 5:58.09
5.Hilary Pitchford 2:30.56 6:01.39
6.Jordan Peek 2:34.37 6:09.06
7.Kerry Segal 2:37.37 6:09.39
8.Kerry Louw 2:37.47 6:11.39
9.Kerry Shuter 2:40.23 6:12.23
10.Brittany Petersen 2:36.43 6:15.52