Hopetown - With no rain forecast in the catchment area of the Orange River between now and the Easter weekend the demanding scene has been set for the South African K2 river titles which will be decided at the Orange River Canoe Adventure to be held on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th April.
The level will more than likely stay at its low to medium level of 80 cumecs as currently flowing from the Vander Kloof Dam at about 80 cumecs. The net effect of this is that the majority of the rapids which strew the course will be big and challenging and test the river skills of the paddlers, while the sections between, with less flow to assist, will test fitness and endurance.
A field of some 60 craft, mostly K2 canoes, will line up for the start including some big names in South African canoeing. In the Senior Men's division, Jacques Theron and Piers Cruickshank of Gauteng start as the favourites, although fellow provincial paddlers Mike Harris and Jonathon Niemann are no push-overs. KZN's Sven Bruss could be the dark horse here although he has yet to name his partner.
In the ladies division, the current title holder, Abbey Miedema, from the Western Cape has teamed up with the sensational KwaZulu-Natalian Laura Thompson, and although they start as hot favourites, no one is writing off off the Gauteng/KZN pairing of Kirsty van der Merwe and Hilary Pitchford, or the all Gauteng crew of Debbie Geldard and Claire Langenhoven
The Junior U 18 division will be hotly contended with the Western Cape's Brett Doman and Sean Rice out to topple KZN's junior hotties, Andrew Birkett and David Firth.
Another hotly contested category will be the mixed doubles, where Gauteng's former National Canoe captain, Graham Bird, will team up with the Eastern Cape's Jeanette Walder - also a national colours holder - and will be set to clash with the Western Cape's Rory Cole and Vicky Hind.
The Orange, South Africa's longest river has many and varied landscapes, the one across which this race is held is in the Northern Cape, not far from Kimberley and between the towns of Hopetown and Douglas. The 81 km section of this great river has long, flat grinding flats to cross, but equally, a good number of big, medium and small rapids to negotiate. The largest ones all have well marked portages or 'chicken-runs' to save canoeists from long swims should they capsize!
This race, which received almost legendary status in its early years for the huge rapids that dot its length as well as the tricks nature has played when it has been run, sadly went into decline as many paddlers opted for the big brand races and started to race the international circuit after re-admission. However, the good news is that with the twinning of Kimberley Canoe Club (race organizers) with Cape Town's Peninsula Canoe Club from the organizational and operational point of view, this race has been resurrected and has more than doubled in size from 2006 to 2007 - what will 2008 offer?
Day one, a 36 km section from the N12 bridge just outside Hopetown (on the Kimberley road) to the Farm Slypstreen has a number of legendary rapids to shoot - 'Hubby Bubbly', quoted as...."not huge but has a nasty habit of keeping you under water a second or two longer than most people feel comfortable with!!!"...'Hell's Gate', a compulsory portage because it is a rapid that has claimed (thankfully not on this race) lives before, 'Thunder Alley', a stretch of fast flowing water that rushes along a granite gulley that the river has cut down over the eons and Sarel Sidewinder, about 8 km from the end of day one.
Day Two, some 45 kms in length, starts on the farm Boland and punishes paddlers over the first 19 kms with flat water before Edgerton is reached with the well-known Edgerton Rapid. This is followed about 1 km later by 'Marcel's Monster', a stretch of wild water nearly half a km in length. 1 km later, 'Gerd se Perd' is encountered - this A grade rapid is about 150 m long with a medium drop about 20 m into the rapid followed by a huge 'hole' and massive 'boilers' for a further 80 m or so. The race organizers suggest that inexperienced paddlers should portage Marcel's Monster and Gerd se Perd. Thereafter, with the exception of one or two no-name brand rapids of medium difficulty, the race is a flat grind to the end, some 12 km after the Orange River station.
Of special interest in the event are the large number of development paddlers that will be taking part - from both the Western Cape and Gauteng - the two most notable and paddling in the Open, Senior division, will be W.C.C.U.'s Wayne August and Jermaine Pietersen - both of whom have national junior colours.
There is also at least one K3 canoe taking part - on board being that rising star who has twice graced the podium of the Dusi, Loveday Zondi.
With co-sponsors from a number of national brands such as Coca Cola, Medi-Clinic and Hansa, this iconic race is set to rise like a Phoenix to become one of the premier canoe races in the country, not only because of the competition it induces but because of the river, with clean, fresh and fast flowing water set in huge open spaces, amongst quietness and isolation.