The weeks that led up to the SA K2 River Marathon Championships  – Vaal Canoe River Marathon, on the weekend 12 and 13 November were fraught with trepidation, anticipation, dread, excitement, drought fears,  hard work, planning and last minute surprises.  Hosted by the Johannesburg Canoe Club, the race organisers spent weeks tripping the river, checking that all was in order, visiting venues, assessing the water levels at various rapids and in constant contact with the Water Management services at the Barrage to ensure a reasonable expectation of water for the race.

While the Vaal dam itself, reservoir of water supply for the Gauteng population, had in the past week dipped to below the minimum 25% level,  heavy rainfall in the Gauteng region resulted in water flowing in to below the dam, filling the Barrage containment section.  Water from as far afield as Nigel / Heidelberg, the Blesbok, into the Suikerbos, into the Klip and into the Vaal River as well as from Boksburg, underground water streams, storm water drains, the Natalspruit, and the wetlands of the far West Rand resulted in water levels rising on the Vaal through various tributaries.

While paddlers throughout SA were dubious and suspicious of the promised water on the race, suspecting a very sluggish and bony slog, trippers in recent weeks enjoyed the 30m/3 per sec water levels, and were pleased and confident that the heavy waters held back by the Barrage dam wall would enable a water release of similar or more water flow ie an additional 45 cumecs.

The swollen Barrage took the canoeists by surprise when hit by massive flows from flash floods that poured into the system by Saturday forced them to open sluice gates and allow a 300 cumec overnight flow.  Overnight canoeists watched helplessly as they watched the water level rising hourly until it reached unmanagable and potentially dangerous water levels for the Sunday racers, in the Parys white water section , while placing markers at the river bank, to confirm a full 2 metre rise by midnight, breaching banks in some places, although the levels dipped below the banks by Sunday morning and stayed there throughout the day, still frighteningly wild with debris flying down at top speed.

Organisers faced with the difficult decision of cancelling the second day of the race or allowing paddlers to participate in a potentially hazardous and dangerous stretch of river, were strongly advised by the White Water Training and Safety Teams in Parys headed by Hugh Du Preez not to allow racing kayaks on the river from Parys on wards – white water territory.  Du Preez hosts swift water rescue courses and works with the SAPS Waterwings for search and rescue/recovery missions and knows the river well.

The paddlers were certainly disappointed on arriving at the race start on Sunday that they would not be able to enjoy the fast flowing massively huge white water section.  It was also quite intimidating to find out that it had been decided that they also had to paddle some kilometres upstream against the strong 300 cumec flow to spread the field and increase the distance towards the outskirts of Parys where the race would end, at Likkewaan  Kanoe Klub.

Despite their disappointment, their awareness of safety for the event, turned it into a driving urge to display their superior strength and skills against the current, and opposition, and turned the race into an exhilirating, tough but very competitive sprint.

The sharp Uturn to the finish line also added to the challenge which the paddlers took in their stride with confidence and enjoyment, as well as some notable exhaustion as they drove themselves to their limits to make the race worth their reputations!

One of the recorded times on the second day noted a speed of 17 / 18 km per hour which was an indication of the speed of an average paddler in the fast flow of the day!

Some 52 boats finished both days,  which included 12 K1 boats, and 40 K2 finishers.

The venue hosts were superb and were much appreciated – excellent resorts at the start and finish being Cote de Val and Smilin’ Thru, as well as Hadeda Creek although the race was unable to finish there after all they were very understanding. Thanks also to Likkewaan Kanoe Klub for enabling access to the venue for the finish.

The lady champions included Morgan Ziervogel and Holly Spencer (JCC/DABS) who finished in 3 hours 39 minutes over the two days, and were also 4th in the Under 23 category, as well as Sneziwe Gxobole (SOW) who finished in 4 hours 35 minutes as the 9th K1 – 5th Under 23 finisher.

The mixed teams were led to victory by Piers and Shelley Cruickshanks (DABS) in a time of 3 hours 21 minutes, while the 2nd place Mixed Doubles team were KZN visitors Benjamin Bradford and Natasha Bulbring in a time of 3 hours 30 minutes as 8th K2.  Roger and Kate Stubbs (Dabs) were the third mixed double finishers in 3 hours 46 minutes.

The winning K2 SA Championship team was KZN’s Clinton Cook with Thomas Lovemore who finished the race in 3 hours 3 minutes, followed by local Euro Steel competitors, Wayne Jacobs and Siseko Ntondini (Dabs/SOW) a second later, with the Under 23 winners taking 3rd place in 3:04 – Siyabonga Tyiki and Thando Ngamlana (SOW).


The second Under 23 Team included David Rodrigues and Nicholas Weeks (Dab/ERK) in 3 hours 10 minutes, with the Under 18 youngsters chasing to finish a second later, being Liam Stewart and Alex Masina (ERK/JCC).


The winning Sub Master champions for 2016 were Wally Fisher and Theo Smit (CEN) in 3 hours 16 minutes, while the winning Sub Veteran team included Ronald Pronk with Christophe Booysen (Cen/PRE) in 3 hours 16 minutes.  The Top Veteran finishers were Kobus Filmalter and Andre Zandberg (WAT) in 3 hours 17 minutes,  and Malcolm Stothard with Mike Barry (Dabs/ERK) made up the Master champions in 3 hours 27 minutes.  Keith Beeston and John Rowan (JCC/ERK) flew the flag high for the Grand Master age category, finishing in 4 hours 6 minutes, while Jonathan Thompson was the top finishing Sub Grand Master (DABS) in 4 hours 12 minutes.

The K1 winner at the event was Alex Roberts (Dabs) in 3 hours 19 minutes, followed by Zonele Nzuza (SOW) in 3 hours 31, and Jason Brown (DABS) in 3 hours 54 minutes.

9 boats entered and completed Day 2 only of the event, looking forward to enjoying the wild white water of the Parys section, but who settled for a fast hard sprint, as the paddlers recognised the importance of safety and enjoyed their workout.  Timothy White, Bruce Dixon and Daryl Dingley were the first finishers in a K3, in 48 minutes, (DABS) while the first K1 in 50 minutes, was Keith Flemmer, (DABS) and Peter Chissano was (JCC) was a few seconds after,  taking up 3rd place.  Pierre Jason Simon and Justin Dowdle (Dabs) were the only K2 finishers, in a time of 53 minutes.

Well done also to Mike Howard who finished his 35th Vaal Marathon….

So another awesome and epic Vaal River Canoe Marathon, with newly acclaimed SA K2 River Championships came to an end after weeks of doubts, concerns and fears for no water, on a high water note.  Thanks to the organisers for all their efforts and arrangements which were much appreciated – and the race ran smoothly!  Well done Martin van den Bergh and Gavin Steyl.


Jennie Dallas

for GCU PR

082 857 857 1


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