Fresh off his double gold at the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships, Andy Birkett has now shifted his focus to next week’s SA K1 River Championships at the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon.
Euro Steel’s Birkett emulated his good friend and K2 partner Hank McGregor, when he won his first K1 marathon title, then followed up with an impressive K2 crown to become the second South African to win the double at the same world championships.
Having travelled back from Portugal and relocated to East London with his wife Nikki, Birkett has had the chance to catch a breath and think about the upcoming Fish which he has always looked forward to.
‘Well, I ordered my boat for the Fish a week ago, so I have been thinking about it,’ he quipped from his new home in Nahoon. ‘I’ve only paddled once since Portugal and I’ve been sick, but I will get my preparations started.’
‘We race so much that I don’t think it will be an issue being ready for Fish. I look forward to a weekend in Cradock with the family, it’s such a great vibe,’ said Birkett.
The public bromance between Birkett and McGregor could take an interesting turn in Cradock, as they both hope to get one over the other on the hard but light-hearted race in an attempt to dash to the line.
‘It’s going to be such an awesome race against Hank. I’m going to give him a lot of grief and abuse on the river, and I’m sure he is going to give it straight back to me!’
‘We don’t get to race too many river races anymore so I’m looking forward to getting back on to the river.’
‘There will also be some other tough competitors like Stu Maclaren, Kenny Rice and Jasper Mocké, who are all in great form so it will be a tough race for sure,’ Birkett added.
With the national K1 river championships and a first K1 Fish River Canoe Marathon title on the line, one would assume that Birkett is determined to win in Cradock, but the new father is not putting any pressure on himself.
‘I set myself a really big goal to win at marathon worlds – that was my main focus so I won’t be disappointed if I don’t win at Fish. I’m definitely going to go there and race as hard as I can, but if that isn’t good enough, I am fine with that,’ Birkett commented.
Despite the relative lack of river racing, Birkett has been spending a lot of his time broadening his paddling skills and he will continue to branch out as much as he can.
‘I never want to be a paddler that paddles one discipline,’ he explained. ‘There are so many different aspects to our sport, so I try and do as much as I can whether it be river racing, flat-water marathon racing or surfski paddling, I want to try and do as much as possible.’
PHOTO: Birkett in rough water action, by Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media