High five for South Coast paddlers at Masters World Cup

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Quintin van Jaarsveld

Local legends Willie Kunz and Mike Halliday made their mark in the ICF Canoe Masters World Cup that preceded the Marathon World Championships at Camps Drift in last week.

The opportunity to be a part of the event spawned a huge entry of South African veteran and masters age group paddlers, making up around 80 percent of the just over 200 K1s that raced across the full range of age groups on the Monday.

The focus shifted to K2 racing on the Tuesday, where an equally well supported entry of over 140 K2 crews contested the age group honours on the waters of Camps Drift.

Kunz finished fifth in K1, with the South Coast Canoe Club duo managing an equally impressive fifth place in K2 in the great grand masters category (59-65).

Kunz’s road to the global showpiece started at the provincial championships at the same venue in July, where he clinched a bronze medal.

“I paddled against Allan Hold and Geoff Thompson, two vastly experienced paddlers, in very cold conditions. I was literally blown away and managed a third some four minutes off Allan, who was first,” said Kunz.

“At that stage, the organisers were still busy dredging the drift for the World Cup and the water level was pretty low. Canoeing is like cycling, and if you don’t get the wave you end up working extremely hard on your own. I couldn’t get up to speed, lost the wave and paid the penalty.

“We were supposed to race the World Cup distance [19km] but for some reason, we only paddled 15km. I came back determined to train even harder and concentrated on doing longer paddles of 20-22km.”

Next up was the South African Marathon Championships, also in Pietermaritzburg, last month.

Here, Kunz had to compete against the cream of the crop, including Hold, Rob Maclean, his former Fish partner, Dusi legend Andre Hawarden and Peter O’Connor from Gauteng.

As the Sub Great Grand Masters, they had to do four laps of approximately 4.8km and one short lap, without any portaging (running).

After about 300-500 metres, Hold, Mclean and Hawarden got away from the diamond that included Kunz, Thompson and O’Connor. By the short fifth lap it, was a dice between Kunz and Thompson, with the latter beating Kunz into fourth place by half a boat length.

“I was a lot happier with the result and came back home more determined than ever,” said Kunz.

Primed and ready, the Masters World Cup dawned at a sweltering Pietermaritzburg last Monday, where Kunz formed part of a strong 13-man field that included his national championships rivals, experienced river and ski paddler, Brian Longley from the Eastern Cape, and two Swedish paddlers.

When the gun went off, Kunz tried to get onto the diamond of Hold, Maclean, Thompson and Hawarden but only managed to stay there for about 500 metres and ultimately crossed the finish in fifth place.

“I’m extremely happy finishing fifth,” said Kunz. “I learned afterwards that these worlds were Rob’s eighth that he was competing in. I think Allan has competed in a similar number, which just shows how incredibly high the standard was and how experienced they are.”

On Tuesday it was time for K2 competition in the same extreme heat as the previous day.

“The weekend after the SA Champs, Mike phoned me up and we decided to enter K2 for the worlds. The only problem was we didn’t have a competitive boat,” said Kunz.

“You can’t race a Dusi K2 weighing approximately 15-20kg against Kevlar Nelo’s weighing as little as 12kg. We eventually found a boat two weeks before race day and managed to paddle four times together.”

Racing against 12 boats, the local pair secured a hard-earned fifth place.

“Our lack of competitive experience showed as we inadvertently got off the wave of Brain and his partner, thinking that they were in a higher age group than us and we didn’t want to risk a disqualification or penalty.

“We learned afterwards that Brain had the incorrect board colour but more importantly that you can ride the wave of any boat provided they start with you which was obviously what Bucky had done.

“Mike and I tried hard but just couldn’t close the gap on the other two boats. Every time we got closer, they pulled an interval. Overall, it was a life experience and I learned how high the standard of competition is even in the masters category.”

Halliday, who missed the provincial and national championships, said, “The race was tough with about 10m separating third, fourth and fifth but we enjoyed it being our first time at worlds.”

Mike Halliday. (Maz Tissink Photos)

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