Development paddlers ready for tough Berg

9 July 2014

The four-day Berg River Canoe Marathon, an event regarded by some – three-time marathon world champion Hank McGregor among them – as the toughest of its kind in the world, takes place in the Western Cape from 16 to 19 July. Among the contestants will be an impressive development team from the Computershare Change a Life Academy.

Ten men from KwaZulu-Natal’s Valley of a Thousand Hills, under the tutelage of seven-time Dusi Canoe Marathon champion Martin Dreyer, will take on the 240-kilometre challenge, and even more could have handled it had logistics counted not against them, Dreyer reckoned.

‘A strong team

“We are taking down a strong team to the Berg this year,” the Dusi Duke said in a statement on Tuesday. “It would be more than that, but we are only taking one bus down, unfortunately.”

Dreyer’s Change a Life Academy is a shining example of a successful development programme, producing numerous paddlers who have earned national colours and even winners of the prestigious Dusi Canoe Marathon.

However, the huge difference between the winter conditions in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal could be a problem for the Change a Life paddlers. River paddling opportunities in KwaZulu-Natal in winter are minimal, so the Berg provides a chance for them to get in some training and work on establishing a mid-year goal.

‘A great platform’

“The KwaZulu-Natal river season has been over for a while when the Berg comes around and I have always thought that it is a great chance for guys to set themselves a goal for the middle of the year,” Dreyer explained. “It provides a great platform for the guys when they come back and head into our summer paddling season.”

Dreyer, who is familiar with the conditions in the Western Cape, said that adapting to the conditions is going to be the most difficult part of the race for his charges.

“The weather is not the only issue for these guys, but the river is so different to what they know in KwaZulu-Natal. There are trees in the river down in the Cape, which make navigation a lot more critical, with the trees being more like a strainer in the river.

“The weather will be different, with rain and cold, but hopefully the cold front that is hitting the Cape this weekend will be a thing of the past when we down there for the race because in the cold conditions I think it will take its toll on my guys.

“We are going to have to be prepared for some cold conditions and I have made it clear to the guys that they must not go into the race expecting the weather to be the same as it was last year,” he added with caution.

Somewhat of an unkown

A race of the length of the Berg River Canoe Marathon is also somewhat of an unknown for a lot of the paddlers but, Dreyer said, his Change a Lifers have been putting in the correct preparation for the four-day race.

“It is a Comrades-like event and the guys have had to spend a lot of time in the boat, and with Nagle [Dam] becoming too small now the guys have been putting in four-to-five hour sessions at Inanda Dam once a week,” he said.

Having done so much for the Computershare Change a Life Academy in the past, team ambassadors and Dusi Canoe Marathon winners Sbonelo Zondi (EuroSteel/Computershare Change a Life) and Thulani Mbanjwa (Build It) will lead the 10-strong contingent down to the Western Cape.

Setting an example

“Sbonelo has been there or there abouts at the Berg in the past and he and Thulani will be important in helping the younger guys in the squad,” Dreyer explained.

“Sbonelo is looking for a top-five and if he can motivate the younger guys to better results than that is great for the academy.”

Assessing the challenge that lies ahead for his paddlers, Dreyer said: “In terms of paddling races, it really doesn’t get much harder than the Berg, and it really matures you as a paddler, so going with five junior guys is also great because I think when they come back and take on our season they won’t suffer.

“The Berg grounds you as a paddler and that is something that I am hoping the guys will be ready for,” he concluded.

The Berg River Canoe Marathon starts in Paarl on 16 July and ends at Velddrif on 19 July.

SAinfo reporter