Race Report: ERK Vaal Dam Wall and GCU K3 Trials : 27 September 2014

The Vaal Dam Wall 24km race is well known to Gauteng paddlers as a slog and grind hardworking race on the long flat 15km after the fun 8km section – but as we all know, thats the way to build up endurance, strength and stamina to the next level!

The annual slog giving canoeists the opportunity to enjoy different fun challenging rapids was hosted as usual by the East Rand Kayak club based at Homestead dam in Benoni, and once again they managed to wangle a water release to make the race possible!

The race which was a K1 discipline, it being a K1 year, also hosted the Gauteng trials for the SA K3 Championships to take place at the Hansa Fish River Marathon, and except for Visgat, the river section is eminently suitable for K3’s….nevertheless the K3’s managed the tricky tight shallow rapid successfully!

The first wake up call on this race is actually right under the road bridge where lurking rocks just under the surface of the water wait to sabotage enthusiastic paddlers still in large bunches from the start below the Vaal dam wall.  With narrow channels between these lurking rocks, there are inevitably a few swimmers who are pushed off their lines and into the rocky ledges under the bridge and between pillars, however the real wake up is the Kloppers rapid just around the next corner with curving side on waves, a huge drop and massive stopper wave which frequently results in screams as the icy cold water from the bottom of the dam swamp boats, and the occasional swim from those caught off guard without enough speed and at the wrong angle – especially those on the outside edges in a bunch – best to back off and stay in the middle of the wave train!

Lurking rocks frequently catch paddlers by surprise on the flat water to the weir portage and throughout the upper river, until the water channels into the SHUTE – a wild bucking bronco ride down some exciting wave trains, with swallowing holes and large stoppers, while the water also hits the rocky walls on each side of the narrow gorge and bounce back to knock paddlers off their lines……eddies along the sides of the rocky gorge frequently result in boats spinning out and then usually a swim – but most of the eddying out happens at the bottom of the wave train where a nice pool allows the swimmers to recoup themselves, boat and paddle quite comfortably!

Visgat once again was a busy and technically challenging rapid, but there was only one boat that broke in half at the infamous MAIN drop on the far right…..a line which should only be shot by experienced paddlers, and a few others did manage it successfully.  MOST paddlers choose the chicken run on the left side of the rapid, paddling through a group of wave trains, avoiding rocky islands, dropping down a narrow gateway between rocky outcrops to paddle hard sharp right to catch the very shallow and narrow middle line, bouncing over smooth rocks before arriving at the pool below.  A quick portage over the Visgat weir is also a recommended option for K2’s and K3’s although a few join the K1’s shooting the weir on the far right side where there are frequently rudder damages, seams split or noses broken.

The rest of the race……is not worth reporting about – its just a flat hard slog against head winds, with the waves hitting against you, and strong resistance – referred to as the only uphill river race in the world!  BUT those used to regular time trials can manage the 15km quite comfortably!  Those who struggle, are not training enough!

The winning boat was a K3 which is most suitable for the GCU K3 Trials, and when 3 strong paddlers pace themselves together in a slimline K3, it is unlikely the K1’s could catch them!  Well done to the EuroSteel champions, Colin Wilson, Michael Robb and Ian Wilson (Dabs) who finished in 2 hours 3 minutes, followed 2 seconds later by the 2nd Dabs K3, also first Veteran category, Brad Breetzke, Iain Hume and keith Flemming.

The first K1 was richard Cele (VIC) in 2:04 although he didn’t ride their slip since he started in a different batch, with Sowetans Siseko Ntondini, Sminikiwi Ntondini in 2:05, and 2:06 respectively as the 2nd and 3rd K1 finishers, also first Under 23 and first Under 18 finishers.

The Dabrowski family K3 were the first Mixed Double finishers with Nicolaas Roodt partnered up with both his future wife Kate Dabrowski and his father in law Frank, (DABS) to finish as first Sub Veterans as well, in 2:11, although the race K1 Sub Veteran winner was George Louw, dumped by his K3 partners on the morning of the race, thanks to a stomach bug invading the Gauteng area as often happens in Spring (and there are a number of non paddlers suffering from it at this time so we can’t just automatically blame the river bugs), and a “’flu” bug, also very common this time of the year, probably resulting from the high incidents of alien pollens in Spring, from the thousands of non indigenous trees planted over the past 150 years in our Savannah grasslands Highveld area!  Louw finished in 12th overall, as the 7th K1 in a time of 2:14.

The first Veteran K1 finisher was Andrew Hall (Dabs) in 2:14, followed by the Master age category K1 winner, Jim Davies (Dabs) in 2:15, and the K2 mixed double top finishers – Raymond and Linda Rorich (CEN) less than 10 seconds later.

Grand Master winner Peter O Connor finished in 2:18 (DABS) as the 22nd overall finisher and 13th K1 and Jane Swarbreck was the first lady finisher in 37th overall position, a time of 2:27 as the 22nd K1 (DABS).  Monique Steven  (FLCC) was the 2nd K1 lady finisher in 2:32, K1 26, while Megan Hedderwick (DABS) was third, K1 31 in 2:43.  Wonderful to see ladies taking on the river challenges on their own, there are precious few willing to tackle this “elite extreme” adventure!

A number of newish paddlers in the sport clinched their final race qualifying point for A grade status on the river, and a few first timers on the river were as always quite horrified at how difficult the head winds and current against the boat could make a 15km stretch into a slog as we all discovered the first time we tried it!

Done and dusted – the last river race in Gauteng before the Hansa Fish River A grade race in October…..and then the A+ grade Lowveld Croc – making October one of the most challenging and exciting months of the 2014 year!

Jennie Dallas


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