The STIHL Umkomaas Marathon 2020, happening on the 28th & 29th March, will be targeting both novice and international paddlers, who will tackle the Umkomaas River for a unique paddling experience.
STIHL International have confirmed their backing of the race once again, and are keen to raise the awareness of this unique event amongst the paddling community outside of South Africa. “The river is untamed, and therefore safer” says Race Director Terry Drummond of Kingfisher Canoe Club, the Organisers of the race. The Umko has virtually no man-made obstacles or exotic vegetation along the race course, and this means very few entrapment obstacles. The river is also one of the cleanest in the Country, with local farmer Mike Woodburn reporting that his regular water tests, which are required for citrus exporting, have always returned a ZERO Ecoli count, which is unheard of in the vast majority of South African Rivers.
“We are wanting to see more novice paddlers on the water, including juniors, and of course to give any international paddlers a truly novel African experience on the river. We will be looking at providing transport, boats and managing the land logistics to accommodate these paddlers,” Drummond added.
The race has a proud tradition and history amongst the paddling community, but is now shaping itself on a more “user-friendly” model to allow novices, juniors and female paddlers to feel safe and comfortable on the river. There is an option to start the second day from below Rapid No.8, which is opens the race to all A grade paddlers including under 16’s. Doing so leaves out No.1 to No.8 which is the challenging A+ rated section of the race. This is an opportunity to experience the race and river and then step it up the following year to the full experience. Paddlers taking advantage of this option are still credited with an official Umko finish. Paddlers are welcome to make this decision on race day, based on the water level.
This way, all paddlers can do the Umko within the space that they feel comfortable. Safety is of paramount importance to the race Organisers, and all the usual water safety measures will be in place. The safety system used in the past few years has ensured that any incidents are managed efficiently and effectively in as short a time as possible. This adds to the feeling of security for the paddlers which will be paramount to the continued increase in numbers in the future.
For many top river paddlers in South Africa, this race has been skipped as it has been after a busy river paddling season. With the reshuffling of the race calendar, the Organisers are convinced that more paddlers will see the opportunity to do the Umko this year, and have embarked on a campaign named #bucketlistrace to attract these paddlers. Any paddler who hasn’t yet completed an Umko is urged to get in touch with the Organisers, or enter, to discover the options and benefits available to them by being part of this truly African experience.
Photo: Graham Daniel / Euro Steel Sport