The 33rd staging of the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon gets underway in Cradock on Friday and the small Eastern Cape town is ready for yet another bumper weekend of action both on and off the water.
With the race doubling as the 2014 South African K3 Championships, the world record for the number of three-seater craft participating in a single event that was set at the same event in 2011 has been smashed as 101 K3 crews prepare to take on this year’s race from Grassridge Dam to Cradock Sports Complex.
While many eyes will watch the K3 showdown with anticipation, the focus will however still be on the sharp end of the field where a field of great depth will do battle for this year’s K1 championship.
‘Fisher King’ Len Jenkins has dominated proceedings in the race’s K1 clashes since the turn of millennium however his absence from this year’s field opens the doorway for a new victor to be crowned.
Hank McGregor of Team Jeep/Kayak Centre came within a whisker of overcoming Jenkins in 2012’s clash and the five time Canoe Marathon World Champ will be hoping that this will be the year he breaks his Fish K1 hoodoo and clinches a maiden K1 title.
McGregor has won the past five K2 Fish titles, the most recent four with Team Jeep/Kayak Centre’s Grant van der Walt. Having opted out of this year’s World Champs in Oklahoma City, USA two weeks ago, Van der Walt comes into this year’s race well rested, healthy and focused on ensuring he gets himself into the leaders’ mix.
Four-time Dusi Canoe Marathon winner Andy Birkett went a long way to proving wrong the belief that he is a Dusi specialist when he clinched Under-23 Canoe Marathon World Championship title in Copenhagen, Denmark last year before adding a maiden Berg River Canoe Marathon to his résumé in July.
The Best 4 Healthcare/Kayak Centre flyer has never been impressed at the Hansa Fish previously due to a non-paddling based winter however his recent Marathon and Berg efforts have seen him penciled in not only as a strong podium contender this time around, but a likely title challenger as well.
McGregor’s senior men’s K2 World Champs partner Jasper Mocké (Mocké Paddling) added his name to the mix at the last minute and he, together with older brother Dawid Mocké and fellow Capetownians Tom Schilperoort, Stu MacLaren, Brandon van der Walt (Kayak Racing) and Ivan Kruger, may well see a heavily Western Cape flavoured men’s top 10 this year.
Greg Louw however has other ideas and is eager to become the local thorn in the sides of his visiting compatriots when he uses his recent World Champs base and local river knowledge to his advantage.
Slalom star from USA, Austin Kieffer is relishing his first Hansa Fish experience and comes into the clash with the form, speed and technical skill that may yet see him be a factor in this year’s top 10 as well.
Kieffer is joined by Australia’s James Morfitt, who returns to South African shores having only left not so long ago after a adventurous six month stint on the local paddling circuit, as well as Brendon Rice, Morfitt’s fellow countryman and son of multiple Springbok paddler and former Fish winner Shaun Rice.
The women’s field may not enjoy quite the same depth as the men’s however the race for the podium positions promises to be no less interesting.
Standout South African river marathoner of recent years Abby Adie (Natal Canoe Club/Kayak Centre) hopes that, like McGregor, 2014 will see her finally add a K1 Fish crown to her previous K2 successes.
She will however have to find a way to get the better of a determined Michelé Eray as the former Plettenberg Bay resident, now living in the US, returns to South Africa eager to give the defense of her title her best shot.
Jenna Ward recently showed just how much she has progressed recently when she claimed the bronze medal in the under-23 women’s Canoe Marathon World Champs tussle and will be hoping she too can put her hand up for a Fish podium spot while the Haw sisters Tamika and Bianca, Peek sisters Jordan and Cana, Nikki Russell, Lauren Felgate, Kirsten Penderis and Kerry von Wildemann look set to go head to head for the remaining top 10 positions.
Appropriately, the front end of the K3 clash may well become a three way affair as the crews of Nic Burden, Jean-Luc Mauvis and Adam Nisbet, Shaun Dias, Tristan Wilson and Luke Chalupsky as well as Andrew Birkett, James Birkett and Michael Laverack look set to match each other stroke for stroke.
While unlikely to be near the front of the K3 field, former Springbok captain Corné Krige makes a welcome return to the Fish this year after his 2012 debut where he will again hope to raise much needed funds for the Corné Krige Children’s Charity.
Krige, pictured above, is joined by fellow former Springbok and Wallabies loose forward Tiaan Strauss who takes on this year’s Fish in a K3 with Warren Nienaber and Dawie du Plessis.
Water levels are close on exactly the same year on year at the Hansa Fish so few surprises are expected throughout the two days of action while mild conditions are predicted for Friday before the mercury soars to beyond the 30 degree mark on Saturday.
This year’s staging of the popular race also has an exciting new innovation in its line-up with the introduction of a short course event aimed at newcomers to the sport.
The Hansa Fish is renowned for its off the water attractions as well and this year is no different with the anticipation of Thursday evening’s pre-race potjie seeing countless mouths watering already while top South African artists Locnville (LCNVL) as well as Shortstraw and Gangs of Ballet set to rock the Hansa Gig Rig at the Friday and Saturday night concerts respectively.
Picture: Jetline Action Photo/Gameplan Media