As the recent rains in the Drakensberg get paddlers excited for the upcoming N3TC Drak Challenge, Sbonelo Khwela has decided to go about his business in a more discreet way as he eyes an improvement on his previous results with his marker set to break into the top 10 at the popular two-day race from 21-22 January.
Despite being a FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon champion, Khwela’s river skills have let him down in some races around the country and after a solid performance at the 2016 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon he is starting to believe that he can compete with the best in the country on the rougher waters.
‘I have been in good form recently and I am feeling pretty confident,’ the Euro Steel/Red Bull star mentioned. ‘I have always found the Drak Challenge to be quite a difficult race for me because I have struggled with my paddling skills but in the past year I have worked really hard on my paddling and I think I’m a lot better than I was last year!’
The welcome rain has given the uMzimkhulu River a new lease on life with paddlers revelling in the possibility that they might be in for a swollen river for the race later this month and one of those hopeful paddlers is Khwela.
‘I would much rather have a lot of water in the river as the lower the river, the more technical it is and that is something that I battle with more than the other top paddlers. With that said I’m feeling really strong at the moment and am looking forward to the Drak Challenge – it is a race I love coming to do every year.
‘The top 10 is a place that I’ve never had at the Drak so I really want to break into the top 10 this year and if I could get into that top five that would be incredible but we will just wait and see how we go!’ the EADP ace added.
Khwela, whose major focus is winning a first K1 Dusi crown in 2017, is in the process of shaking the stigma that he is only a Dusi paddler and a strong performance at the Drak this year could go a long way in changing people’s perceptions of him.
‘My weakness has always been my paddling throughout my career which has meant that I have battled at other big races but after I finished ninth at the Fish last year I felt that I was moving in the right direction.
‘Although the Dusi is always going to be my main objective I’m hoping that I can do well at the Drak to show that I’m always improving and becoming more competitive,’ added a confident Khwela.
With the elite paddlers starting to become cagey ahead of the Dusi in February, Khwela feels that the Drak Challenge gives him a good opportunity to see where he fares amongst the best ahead of the three-day showdown from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
‘We don’t get a lot of chances to race against each other from now until the Dusi and with only a few more seeding races the Drak gives me the chance to see how strong I am and if I am up to speed with my preparation.
‘I think I’m in the right place at the moment and I’m strong and healthy so we will just take it race by race with the Drak being the next big race for me. To do well at the Drak will be another big confidence booster going into the final month leading up to the Dusi,’ a hopeful Khwela commented.
Picture of Khwela courtesy of Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media