With the river water levels having dropped somewhat noticeably in the weeks leading up to the Vaal River Canoe Marathon,  and the traditional water release being from Vaal Dam Wall for Day One, instead of from Barrage as required this year, the river level may have been the lowest ever but most paddlers were aware of severe restrictions and the fact that some areas of the country are declared a disaster area so it is necessary to  adapt, improve your running skills and grow as a paddler to accommodate the changing needs of the climate.   

There were some bony sections where a number of paddlers got stuck repeatedly on the large flat rocks of the Vaal River after Goosebay Weir – rocks smoothed for thousands of years by water flowing over them providing excellent Dusi training for portages as well as in and out of the boat!  Nevertheless there were a few boats damaged and requiring repairs mostly from Benoude Boude …..which is not unusual as even in strong flow the rapid can be treacherous!

With awesome prizemoney provided by Creative Housewears, as well as welcomed goodie bags, the excitement mounted for the race which took place on 7 and 8 November from the Barrage to Smiling Thru, some 35kms, and the second day from Smiling Thru through Parys to Hadeda Creek of some 26km, covering the traditional white water rafting section, was indeed a beautiful section of river providing excellent training and mileage for improved strength and stamina.  Even standing in hip deep water, with broken boats, some paddlers marvelled at the beauty of the river……
The race attracted a good amount of out of town visitors from Natal, even Western Province, and the Border areas besides Pretoria, Central Free State district and the Lowveld – the competition was very welcome and created tough competitive races in the cateogories!

With exciting weirs, tricky treacherous rapids, s Bends and tight sneaks the river ensured all paddlers were on their toes and many learned a great deal from the exciting race while enhancing their river ability and fitness.

The water release arrived at Big Daddy rapid during the course of the race and the rising level was noticeable on the dry hot stones near the river bank, while the rapid became increasingly powerful with turbulent water so those coming through in the last third of the river race where the majority of swimmers took place on the rapid, can blame it on the viciousness of the fast rising water level!.

Smilin’ Thru threw themselves enthusiastically into the spirit of the race providing blow by blow accounts of the finishing boats arriving and providing excellent Afrikaner marching songs that had feet tapping while kids enjoyed the pools and zipline and adults revelled in the cold drinks at the bar with super food on hand – they even provided a work team to carry boats from the finish up to the car park – how spoiled were these paddlers!!!

The welcoming finish venue  with food and drinks and a festival vibe at the end of Day 2 at Hadeda Creek also boasted the Free State hospitality and provided a welcome and enjoyable day for those waiting for the racers.


Siyabonga Tyiki and Thando Ngamlana (SOW) showed their superb river reading ability as well as agility and lightness of body weight by finishing ahead of the pack on both days without question dominating the race, to finish in  5 hours 10 minutes – Under 23 and winners of the race.

Benjamin Bradford ( UCT / WP) and Gavin Shuter (Dabs) were their strongest contenders were   finishing in 5h14, and the 3rd place finishers in 5h34 were Phineas Zulu and Alex Roberts (Sow/Dab).

In 5h42, the 4th place finishers were the first Veterans – Andrew Hall and Barry Painting (DABS), with the first Sub Veterans were right behind them – Gregory Smith and Gavin Steyl (VLC/JCC) in 5h45.  The first finishing Sub Masters were 9th overall, in 5h49 – from Centurion – Wally Fisher, and Theo Smit.

The first ladies came through as 15th K2, in 6h10- Kirsty Fox and Sarah Saunders (ERK/DABS).  The second ladies finishers were Natasha Bulbring, and Christie Mackenzie,  (Nat/EPW), visiting Natalians, 27th overall, in a time of 6 hours 29 over the two strenuous days. 

Zonele Nzuzua, and Asanda Ndlovu (SOW) were 13th overall and first Mixed Double in 6h05.

 Russell Willis was the first K1 finisher, (DABS) in 6h11, 16th overall and the first finishing juniors were the Under 18 team  from JCC – Alex Masina and Peter Chissano in 6h16, 17th overall, while Sibusiso Chwayi and Lona Magadla finished as the Under 16 youngest team in the race, in a time of 6h28 for both days, 25th overall.    

30th overall position brought in the first finishing Sub Grand Masters – Meyer Steyn and Pete Rossouw (DABS), in 6h36, as the 28th K2, while JP Pienaar (LIK)  was the first finishing Master, in a K1, in a time of 7h06, familiar with the lines as a white water paddler frequently on the river,  the winning Masters in the K2 event was George Coetzee and Casper Hendrik Theron (PRE and BORDER – EC)  in 7h13, as the 38th K2, and 43rd overall.  Keith Beeston and John Rowan (JCC/ERK) were the first Grand Master finishers, 57th finishers, in a time of 8 hours 17 minutes.

Those paddlers who opted not to do the 2nd day after the tough slog of day 1 may regret their decision as the finishers of Day 2 had an awesome experience with most managing to get through the tricky rocky sections in Parys without problems although the section leading to Theatre rapid proved most tricky – probably because most of the water hadnt arrived there yet!

All in all a fantastic fun enjoyable race, great training, super atmosphere and great cameradie!

Thanks to JCC / organisers and helpers who spent enormous amounts of time preparing and scouting the river, to find the best options for racers to enjoy!


Jennie Dallas

for Gauteng Canoe Union

082 857 857 1