By Quintin van Jaarsveld
Willie Kunz’s journey to the 2017 World Canoe Marathon Championships got off to an excellent start as the South Coast stalwart secured a full house of medals at the recent national and provincial championships.
Kunz’s long-term goal of attaining world championships glory kicked off with the KwaZulu-Natal Canoe Marathon Championships at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg, which will host the 2017 global showpiece, where he competed in both the K1 and K2 events.
As a preliminary to the World Canoe Marathon Championships, the rules and procedures were those applied at world marathon standard, therefore, Kunz had to be wary not to cut a competitor off or ride the wrong age category wave so as to avoid being penalised or even disqualified.
The South Coast Canoe Club chairman adapted to these rules with aplomb in the grand masters race, which consisted of four laps with three compulsory portages which amounted to 15.3km.
He was, however, hampered by his heavy Dusi river boat, which as Kunz had anticipated, cost him precious time.
Nevertheless, the 62-year-old went on to bag bronze.
“I knew in advance that I was at a disadvantage in my boat. Most of my competitors have been to SAs and Worlds before and all race either an imported Nelo, a Kayak centre Raid or a sprint boat from Knysna racing,” Kunz told eHowzit.
“These boats are extremely light and fast; the minimum weight for a marathon K1 is 8kg and a marathon K2 is 12kg. My Dusi K1 weighed in at 13.5kg.
“Whilst I was competitive for the first 4km, I couldn’t maintain the intensity and fell off the diamond. Once that happens you’re a goner and you just have to hang in.
“Fortunately, I was well placed in third position and managed to maintain that position.”
Geoff Thompson won the gold medal, with Nigel Briggs claiming silver.
In the following day’s K2 race, Kunz and his Durban-based partner Joe Boy won their umpteenth gold medal and provincial title.
“The racing was hard, competitive and very tactical, but things went well for us,” said Kunz.
Kunz was keen to build on this momentum at the South African Canoe Marathon Championships, also held in Pietermaritzburg, this past weekend.
Unfortunately for Kunz, his Dusi river boat made him ineligible for the K1 event.
“It’s disappointing that I couldn’t compete in the K1 event. I would like to have tested myself against the top paddlers in my age category, but you have to have the right equipment to race at that level,” he said.
Sunday’s K2 race pitted Kunz and Boy against fellow KwaZulu-Natal duo Alan Hold and Geoff Thompson.
“Alan Hold has been to numerous World Cup events and normally races with Lee McGregor, Hank’s father, so we knew from the start the racing was going to be hard,” said Kunz.
Their batch of six boats, which included masters and sub masters competitors – the likes of Rob Welsh from East London and the inform combination of Bruce Wenke and Lynton Hope – pushed the pace, with Kunz’s heart rate ranging between 95-110%.
The decorated duo flew along at a boat speed of up to 15.5km/h, with Boy sitting on the diamond for the first 4km before the high-speed race started to take its toll.
Kunz and Boy eventually claimed silver, rounding off the South Coast pioneer’s medal haul.
“The pace was unbelievably fast with intervals in between to shake or drop off stragglers, which we eventually were.
“Fortunately, the opposition also fell off soon afterwards and although we held on and actually clawed back some distance, particularly on the portages, we finished one minute 41 seconds behind Alan and Geoff,” said Kunz.
Kunz will be 65 when the World Canoe Marathon Championships come around in 2017, which will see him move up to the great grand masters category, which Kunz says has its pros and cons.
“In this category, you’re not required to run which is a bonus but could also have been an advantage for me as I’m used to running with the boat,” he explained.
His medal-winning form over the past fortnight proved Kunz still has what it takes to be successful at the highest level.
It also highlighted the major flaw in his game – his heavy, outdated boat.
Kunz believes a more competitive K1 boat is the final piece of the puddle for him to make a serious run at the world title and thus appeals to the South Coast community for any form of sponsorship.
To assist Kunz with sponsorship, contact him on 082 411 2965.
Photo by Jetline Action Photo/Gameplan Media