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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South African K1 River Championships

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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.

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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.

John Hishin-Cape Town Sport Photography

John Hishin-Cape Town Sport Photography

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!

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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!

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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.

Start of Day 2

Start of Day 2

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.

Going under Gouda Bridge

Going under Gouda Bridge 1/3 of the way.

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!

Lee hauling in the pack

Lee hauling in the pack

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!!!

 

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

Tree Blocks, Rain, Fish Eagles and the Swartlands Marathon

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Photo by John Hishin-Cape Town Sport Photography

I spent the past week in the beautiful winelands region of the Boland/Swartland area in the Western Cape. I managed to trip the ever-changing Berg River a number of times, and at all different river levels. It was amazing, as the change that occurred after the heavy rains of Wednesday and Thursday changed the river so much that I could hardly recognise where I was. Weirs that were big drops the day before, I paddled right over the top, oblivious that there was something below me! And tree blocks that had caused big problems were suddenly under water!

It had been 7 years since I had last been on the challenging river, and my fear of the trees was still present! Luckily I managed to trip with many past champions and Legends, such as Giel van Deventer, the Rabies, and Graham Bird. Thanks for sharing your knowledge! Each time was a different adventure, the only consistent thing was a massive Fish Eagle flying above us.

I am using a new boat from Knysna Racing Kayaks, and its a lot smaller than any other K1 I have paddled in the river. It’s a lot closer in size to my Nelo Vanquish 3 that I paddle in the flat water. I love the responsiveness of a small, rigid boat, and it handled the river conditions so well! Thanks Albert! I also used Vibram Five Fingers on my feet, it felt amazing to be able to feel my peddles, almost like I was barefoot! I will do a seperate post on the 2 types I am testing out a bit later.

It’s amazing how a bit of river knowledge and confidence through the tress will save you many minutes of hard paddling! I leant the hard way the first few times, and I am hoping to learn even more as time passes. The camaraderie of the local Western cape guys is awesome, and everyone is keen to help and explain where to go in the maze of the Berg River and all her trees and channels!

The SA K1 race was hosted by Peninsular Canoe Club who did an awesome job on the organising front, with loads of safety and they even went and cleared a number of dangerous tree blocks the weekend before!

The race went well for me, I paddled with Robyn Kime the whole of the first day of 40km and most of the second day of 45km. I ended up opening a small gap in the last few km’s to take my first National River title, with Robyn in 2nd, and Berg Legend Jean Wilson outsprinting Hilary Pitchford for 3rd.

In the men’s Hank MacGregor won the endsprint from Lance King, and ever-fit Graeme Soloman in 3rd.

Berg is going to be very interesting!!

Thanks mom for seconding me!

John Hishin-Cape Town Sport Photography

Genius Ski

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My buddy from Plett, Neal Stephenson has been working on a ski design. Neal is one of those ultimate WaterMen. It doesn’t matter what craft he is on, as long as he is in water he is incredible. When we were growing up he was one of the best BodyBoarders in the World. Now he paddles, both Rivers and Surf Ski. He has shaped a few wave ski’s (that he used to win World Titles) as well as shaping a few malibu boards. The past few Fish River Marathons, he has stayed with me, and I always know he will have his toolkit with him, and he is the best when it comes to neat repairs!

He used his extensive sea knowledge, as well as his shaping experience, plus some cool IT design to shape the foamy. After glassing it, he tested it, and now Knysna Racing Kayaks have made a mold and will begin to manufacture it! Watch this space!

He has made an awesome little boat! It is aimed at the slightly smaller person, not the over 100kg beast! It has been designed to be super fast in the runs. Most ski’s out there have been designed for tall, big people. Funny enough, not all the people who paddle are massive, and most people out there are paddling craft way too big for them. There are so many new ski’s on the market right now, but nothing like the Genius! I can’t wait to see what it can do!

I tested it the other day, and found it to be fast, and thanks to its shorter length, it accelerates really nicely, making it an ideal choice for downwind conditions!

It is aimed for the “Go Fast” club, Here are the dimensions:

Length:  6200mm

Widest point: 418mm

Height: 330mm

Hansa Powerade Fish River Marathon

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Shooting Cradock Weir-photo Dave Macleod

The Hansa Powerade Fish River Marathon is definitely one of my favourite events on the calendar! The organisation is superb, the race is awesome, and the after-party good fun. What more could you ask for in a race?

I flew home from Spain, after being in Europe (Portugal and Spain) for 5 weeks, landed at PE airport, and my mom (super second) fetched me and we drove straight to Cradock. I had just done 7 races, with the Fish being my 8th race in 6 weeks. To say I was tired was an understatement! Met up with Robyn Kime, who had made the the trip up to Cradock from Stellenbosch where she is a 3rd year student. By bringing in some youth I effectively lowered the average age in the boat to 25:)

We hopped in the boat for the first time ever on Wednesday, and shot Soutpans Rapid. It went well, and we combined nicely. Robyn was going to drive, as I felt that A) she is probably better at it than me! and B) being so tired, it helped giving her the responsibility of driving, leaving me to focus on getting the boat moving. We paddled Knysna Racing Kayaks new K2-The Rush. What an awesome boat! It was fast on the flats, and had ample buoyancy through the bigger rapids plus it was pretty stable! Thanks Albert and Hubby for a cracker of a boat!

Shooting Soutpans rapid-photo by Dave Macleod

Having not done too much preparation for this year’s Fish, we were both pretty relaxed in our approach. This went a long way in making this one of the most enjoyable Fish’s I have ever raced.

Day 1 went well, we were first out at the Dam Wall Portage, and never looked back. We caught most of B batch, and some of A batch, which proved frustrating as we had to wait many times for slower boats through the narrow upper sections, and going into the portages:( Robyn drove like a champ, and all I had to do was keep in time. We finished 20th overall in the men’s event (*no slip riding) and 1st in the women’s with an 8.5 minute lead over Tiff Kruger and Jen Hodson.

Day 2, we started in elapsed time with the men, meaning we could ride their wash. We were 2:48 behind 19th, but we had a pack of 4 men’s boats about 40 seconds behind us. They chased and caught us after about 27 minutes. They had dropped one boat. Thanks to Wayne Wilson and Mark Holtshausen’s hard work we caught the boat in front. unfortunately, they dropped off at Gauging Weir after a bad line leaving us with 2 other boats fighting for a top 20. We were feeling strong, and comfortable in the group. Until we swam at Marlow. It was quick and painless, but enough to lose our top 20. Then another swim at Cradock Weir (yes the crayfish are still at the bottom there) nearly ruined my good mood! We still managed to win by 14 minutes from the other women’s crews.

thanks to Robyn for helping me finally achieve a win in this race. Since Daniel Conradie (who won in 1997, and 1998) no other EP person has won the event. He was my mentor and I am glad to finally win the race on the river he took me down for the first time. Thanks to my mom and dad for seconding me, and well done to everyone involved in organising such a great race, and to all who finished it! Robyn, as little as she is, makes up for it by having a huge heart on the river! Great racing!