The new breed of South Coast paddlers announced themselves in the Drak Challenge that took place in Underberg at the weekend.
The seven-man South Coast Canoe Club contingent consisted of a mix of young and experienced paddlers, who did the club proud during the two-day event despite the occasional swim.
Rookies Ayrton Barron, Jean Geyer and Denzil Nicholas all finished the race despite being in awe of some of the descriptive rapid names such as Boomslang, Handbrake turn, Toilet Bowl, Phoenix Nasty, Big Brother and Black Murray rapids on Day One. Day Two dished up names like Mine Shaft, Boat Gobbler, Sneaky Puffadder, Glen Haven, Heaven and Hell and Wakeup rapid.
Despite good rains earlier in the week, which was evident by the brown water in the sea locally, the water levels dropped daily leading up to a wet and misty start and the paddlers were in for a shock at the start at Castleburn as the water level continued to drop to a lowish/medium level.
The South Coast collective – rounded off by Simon Heaver and Patrick McNeill (the only local tandem), Rudi Bense and club chairman Willie Kunz, held a competition within a competition for local bragging rights.
There was a big tussle up front between the experienced pair of Heaver and McNeill in a K2 and Bense and Barron in K1s. A few of the locals took the occasional swim, Bense coming off the worst on Day One at Black Murray, which nearly saw his race ending with serious damage to his rudder hinge.
Fortunately for him, he had a pump in the boat and that saved him precious time. It wasn’t enough though as Heaver and McNeill sneaked in in a time of 2:00:09, with Bense (2:06:57), Kunz (2:08:32), Barron (2:16:15), Geyer (2:18:40) and Nicolas (2:35:57) all within minutes of each other.
Day Two was a bright and sunny affair on slightly more water than Day One. Despite the occasional swim – Barron and Geyer at Heaven and Hell and Kunz at Glen Haven – competition among the locals was still tight. In the end, all finished despite their individual challenges on the river and the repairs to their boats that await at home.
Once again, the K2 proved to be too strong for the K1s with Heaver and McNeill claiming the bragging rights in a total time of 5:03:15. They finished 22nd overall in the K2 race and 12th in the K2 Masters division.
Meanwhile, there was a big dice between novice Barron and river dog, Bense. In the end, Bense prevailed by a mere 27 seconds overall in 5:13:00, which put him 23rd in the Masters division.
Evergreen Kunz showed he’s still king when it comes to results as his time of 5:18:19 earned him silver in the Great Grand Masters division. Newcomers Geyer and Nicholas pushed on to finish in 5:29:48 and 6:01:58 respectively.
Others with local links also performed well. Former Port Shepstone paddler Rory McNeill, son of Patrick and Laura, finished in 4:52:40 and Dan Cole, son of Richard and Denel of Hibberdene, finished strongly with his K2 partner, Matt Barry, in 4:57:14.
Kunz commended the novices, saying, “A big heads up to our new breed of youngsters that travelled up to take part, for some possibly their first big test in challenging waters.
“The writing appeared to be on the wall that there was a new brigade waiting to take over from the ballies. Two weeks ago, a group of us tripped from just below Lake Eland on a medium Umzimkulu and both Jean and Denzil had to donate their boats to the ‘river mother’. The experience proved to be vital as shown in the Drak results.”
The local paddlers will now turn their focus to the Dusi, which will take place from 16-18 February.