The 8th annual West Coast canoe Challenge took place in Velddrif in sunny conditions on Saturday 1st February 2020. We had near flat water conditions and a very light cool breeze coming from the North West.
253 paddlers registered for this event to take part in either the 10 km race or the longer 20 km race. It is obvious that this event is currently the most popular and best attended race on the Western Cape Canoe Union calendar. This was the first race for the 2020 paddling season – especially for the well-known K1 and K2 paddlers we often see on the Berg river. And obviously for the Juniors on their smaller Guppie boats (mini K1 kayak).
This is an initiative which is driven and supported by the local community and we were very privileged to be supported by several sponsors despite the harsh economic situation we currently experience.
This year we had an out and back format in the sense that the start line was at the Carinus bridge next to the Riviera Hotel and paddlers had to paddle upstream to eventually turn back to finish again at the Riviera Hotel. (The turnaround buoy for the 10 km route was between Bokkomlaan and Kuifkopvisvanger camping site. And the 20 km paddlers went all the way up to Kliphoek camping site to go around the island and back to Velddrif.)
Through the years we noticed that more and more novices came on board and have become interested in the discipline of canoeing / paddling and we started to get more and more enquiries and eventually this race was thrown open to all disciplines and craft. Which put a lot of pressure on various safety aspects seeing that this event was run according to CSA (Canoeing South Africa) Safety regulations. The very basics are that
one has to be a competent swimmer, sign an indemnity form and have to wear a proper life jacket, etc. We were very privileged to have the back up and support of 3 rubber ducks of the Police Diving unit to monitor the event and ensure the safety of participants.
And then they started to arrive from all over the Western Cape. Stanford Canoe Club already started their journey to the West Coast at 4 am to get in time to Velddrif which is 283 km away. We had paddlers from all over the Cape Peninsula, Strand/ Somerset West, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington, Langebaan, Saldanha Bay, St Helena Bay, Velddrif, Dwarskersbos, Piketberg, Citrusdal, Clanwilliam, Riebeek Kasteel and numerous other places.
The participants arrived with all sorts of boats and kayaks – from fast racing boats like K1, K2 and K 3 kayaks and the smaller Guppies, Surfski, stand up paddle boards, to the slower sea kayaks, sit on top plastic boats, etc. Even the odd Indian canoe could be seen
in between.
And before long we had lots and lots of nervous novices of all  shapes and sizes and ages, and first time Development paddlers (especially from Paarl, Stellenbosch and Stanford) to the very best of South Africa ‘s K1 / K2 and Surfski and SUP paddlers. (Several of them have presented South Africa in numerous World Championships all over the world.)

The youngest paddler was Daniel du Toit (6) who participated with his dad Daan on a K2 boat. (Milnerton Canoe Club). And the oldest paddler was John Lazarus (84) with his SUP.
And surely throughout the years we were of the opinion that we have seen it all, only to get a new surprise to see a new discipline on the water. We took note of 2 very brave and competitive young men who arrived at the start line with their SUP boards, but with no paddles. Jadon Wessels (10 km) and Levy Mayes (20 km) are prone paddlers . . . you basically lie down on your stomach and paddle with your hands like lifeguards do it (almost like swimming motion on top of your board ). This is not for the faint hearted or
The Male winner Junior DANIEL BURLS onboard a K1 (Stanford Canoe Club) in his debut outing had a great 10km race leading from start to finish! (57 min 07 seconds)
The first local paddler was DELANO SWART (West Coast Canoe Club) in 11th place. (1
h 02 min 54 seconds) And 7 seconds behind him was the Female winners FLO ELS and SANDY APRIL (first timer) both local girls from West Coast Canoe Club onboard a K2.
And we have to mention the winner of the SUP Open Men division, KIMON DOS SANTOS (22) who is one of South Africa’s top paddlers. He is currently ranked no 2 in SA last year. This year given his dedication and continued improvement; he is expected to command the number one spot in SA. He took the initiative with a great start, putting the hammer down and almost immediately pulling a substantial lead of around 60 m after the first 500 m, a lead he maintained to the end. He was chased hard by a young gun and
his training buddy Cameron Tripney (16) SA’s no 1 ranked Junior who took a second overall and with 3rd place being taken by real legend and senior paddler, Rory Smyth.

After a bumpy and energetic start under the bridge, the paddlers and stand up paddlers were guaranteed a fun day out paddling up the Berg river. With near perfect conditions, and a slight head wind upon the return, the SUP Ladies set their pace behind the lead men. The lady’s division was led by JEAN MORTLOCK, with a few minutes behind her, CHIARA VORSTER and in third place JO HARRIS. Mortlock anticipated a social race, but
after the start felt competitively energised and powered through even though endurance is normally her preference. Vorster normally being in the lead at her young age, unfortunately was having back issues on the day. SUPping Diva Jo claimed third place in her usual graceful style. A social race enjoyed by all, especially the stand-up paddlers for the locations the open waters and scenery.

As one of the local paddlers, Etienne Laubscher nursed a few youngsters through a narrow section of Grootsloep (about 700 m from the finish line) which is known as very handy shortcut especially on high tide ( and if you are tired ) , they were hit by the screams coming from a runaway train at full speed behind them . . . needless to say that it was the frontrunners of the 20 km route.

It was still any one’s race with at least 8 paddlers in the leading group. From what one could see through all the spray coming from their paddles were Crispin Thompson, Jack de Swart, Bianca Beavitt, Melanie van Niekerk on right hand side of the formation, Anders Hart, Ulvard Hart, Bartho Visser Louw van Riet and on the back of the formation sat Luke Stowman.
It was a full-blown battle between Peninsula Canoe Club, Paarl Canoe Club, Milnerton Canoe Club, Century City Canoe Club and then another dog tried to get hold of the bone as well . . . Bevan Duffett of Stanford canoe Club.
It was very obvious that two of our top girls are going to fight together at that stage to ensure that the male pack is going to feel their bites and smell their breaths in their necks . . . two lovely women off the water, but give them a K1 boat and a paddle in the hand and these 2 friends for many years become full blown fighters. And then the strategy and fight changed a little bit over the last 500 m – typical of diehard fit dedicated sprinters trying to wrap up a fast 20 km flatwater race.
The new Male winner of the long-distance race is ANDERS HART (Peninsula canoe Club) in And in the second place with a split-second difference is his brother
ULVARD HART (Peninsula Canoe Club) in Followed by BARTHO VISSER ( and LOUW VAN RIET ( both from Paarl Canoe club. Followed in the 5 th place by BEVAN DUFFETT ( the upcoming Junior from Stanford canoe Club.
The new Female winner is MELANIE VAN NIEKERK (Milnerton Canoe Club) in And in second place is our local girl from Langebaan BIANCA BEAVITT (Century City Canoe Club) in
Numerous paddlers would like to extend their gratitude towards the organisers for a well organised amazing race, especially to Rene Boehm (Western Cape Canoe Union ) and Belinda Morkel (Eigevis Group of Companies). And thanks to all the other kind sponsors despite the challenging economic times.
As one of the participants summarised it . . . “Thanks for an amazing race. We had 5 people paddle that race who have never raced before, never thought of racing before and they loved it. They loved the ease of entry and the fact that there were lots of people in plastics, the laughter on the water and the great vibe at the price giving. So, a BIG thank you to you and your Team. “
And thanks to the weather gods giving us fair enjoyable weather . . .
What more can we say . . . on second thoughts I still have to explain to a novice Guppy paddler why the real Ysters paddle so hard and fast and why they shout so loud from time to time . . . maybe they can’t wait to taste the Bokkoms which were part of their price hampers.

Etienne Laubscher
West Coast Canoe Club

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