Make no mistake, I am a surfski paddler through and through. My limited river experience has been in the back of a double where my only role has been to shut up and paddle. I have managed to get 3 Duzi Canoe Marathon’s under the belt this way, but I still couldn’t tell you which day Mission rapid is on. By some twisted wisdom, I recently decided that I could not call myself a paddler if I had not piloted my own vessel on a few of SA’s major river races. After a bit of research I settled on the Kayak Centre Sniper and hit the rivers.
Race 1 was the Tugela 20’s run on, suprise surprise, the Tugela River. But not the Tugela River in balmy Zululand. Rather the Tugela in the freezing mountains! This race has only one major obstacle which, I am extremely proud to say, was negotiated successfully. Check out the video here and here . The rest of the 2 day race is easy and I kept right side up. Needless to say, I was brimming with confidence after this minor test.
The next race was the Jock Claasens upper Umgeni race. Again, I sailed through with flying colours, but then this is the same stretch of river beginners are taken to to get their first taste of gentle rapids. Hardly a significant test. Nonetheless, I felt like a white water maniac who would laugh in the face of danger. This river paddling thing is easy……
Then things changed. Race 3 was the Ngwenya race run over the first 16km of the Duzi course. It has quite a few significant obstacles but I was ready for them. Ernie Pearce was first and immediately I was swimming. To add insult to injury I managed to wrap my boat around the only rock in the river. Not a great start. Next up was Commercial weir.
2 years earlier, in the back of the double, I had managed to fall out while my partner stayed in. Net result was me running down the rapid next to the boat and taking a flying leap back in half way down.[/blockquote] Check out the video here. It’s worth a chuckle. Run fwd until 1min 20.
So I was a bit concerned about Commercial weir given my history, but this time I sailed through hardly touching a rock. Score, one out of two so far. Mussons weir was also negotiated successfully. Now I knew Taxi rapid was the next major challenge and I had committed the line to memory. What I did not count on was getting sucked into a marathon style race with those around me, and missing willow trees which were my land mark. I realised I was at Taxi rapid when I found myself airborne launching off the centre of the weir! After the lifeguard had stopped laughing, he helped me climb back into boat to the cries of loser from the energetic but rather cruel local kids on the bank.
Motor cross Weir was the last obstacle and right at the finish. I had never seen the weir before as it’s not part of the Duzi course. But I had watched the video and it just looked like a big foamy that one had to punch through. Easy, I do that on my ski all the time. Well, I may as well have gotten out of the boat 10m before the weir and pushed it ahead of me. I felt like I had been Star Trek beamed out of my boat. One moment I was paddling the next I was swimming, having no idea what happened. I clambered back into the boat and drifted across the line with my tail between my legs. Seems this river thing is quite tough after all.
Next week is the Fish River Canoe Marathon. Not feeling overly confident after my ignominious Ngwenya race but I will give it a go. Video camera will be running so watch this space for updates.
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