As paddlers from every corner of the country prepare for their annual pilgrimage to Underberg for the N3TC Drak Challenge canoe marathon in partnership with FNB, the race’s loyal supporters that start in the privileged Trout Batch are taking stock of the number of races they have completed, and looking to the new batch of entrants into the prestigious club.
Owen Hemmingway has finished all but one of the 25 previous editions of the race, missing out in 2017 when he was away overseas on a business trip. Colin Simpkins and Dave Macleod are snapping at his heels with 23 medals each.
They are part of a group of only eight paddlers with twenty or more finishes to their credit, dubbed ‘Super Trouts’ by the race and starting in the first Trout batch at a suitably preferential early start time.
For Hemingway, doing the Drak has been linked to his life story, and this year that extends to doing the race with his 14 year old son Ian, entered as a team of two K1s.
“I was doing the Drak fourteen years before Ian was even born,” mused Hemmingway. “He is so excited that it reminds me of how I felt before my first big race.
“He did the Hansa Fish with me in a K3 and has been paddling really competently in a K1 this season. I will paddle behind him, so that I am on hand to help him on the off-chance that he gets into a spot of bother,” he said.
Hemmingway said he wasn’t fussed by the low level of the river at the moment, pointing out that the paddlers thoroughly enjoyed last year’s race when the uMzimkhulu was at its lowest level in the race’s quarter century history.
“The legend Graeme Pope-Ellis used to say ‘There is nothing wrong with bumping into rocks, you just have to make sure you bounce off them in the right direction”,” he added.
Four others, Lawrence Blackbeard, Kevin Middleton, Nigel Stevens, Gary Waud, are poised to join their ranks if they complete the 2019 edition of the two-day 65km classic.
In all 165 paddlers are ‘Drak Trouts’ for having completed ten or more races, including the defending women’s champion Jenna Ward who completed her tenth Drak last year.
N3TC Drak Challenge Super Trouts
24 – Owen Hemingway
23 – Dave Macleod, Colin Simpkins
21 – Kirsten Oliver
20 – Bart Fokkens, Glenn Hilliar, Greg Hitchins, Gavin Tarr
Bidding to become super Trouts in 2019
19 -Lawrence Blackbeard, Kevin Middleton, Nigel Stevens, Gary Waud