Shongweni valley canoeing star Sbonelo Khwela is eagerly eyeing an N3TC Drak Challenge top ten finish when the 2016 edition of the popular Southern Drakensberg event takes place on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 January on the Mzimkhulu River.
The Euro Steel/Red Bull star thoroughly enjoys the trip up to Underberg annually, having even spent some time there on a festive season training camp with Andy Birkett before the pair successfully combined to clinch the 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon title.
“I have always loved traveling up to Underberg for the Drak!” confirmed Khwela.
Having burst onto the big time during the 2013 Dusi where a fairytale maiden win slipped through his grip at the final hurdle, Khwela and Birkett’s success handed him his first Dusi title, adding to his multiple Non-Stop Dusi victories and seventh and ninth place efforts at the 2013 Hansa Fish and Berg River Canoe Marathons respectively.
For various reasons though, the Umzinyathi Canoe Club star has never managed to crack a top ten finish at the N3TC Drak Challenge, something he is eager to rectify this time around.
“Somehow I have never managed to get it right up there yet though, hopefully I can finish in the top ten this time!” he added.
Khwela, like the rest of the field’s racing snakes, will however have the tricky task of spending time in his K1 ahead of January’s Drak Challenge whilst also trying to ensure he and 2016 FNB Dusi K2 partner Banetse Nkhoesa are as well prepared as possible for February’s clash.
“It is very difficult to get the balance between preparing for Drak in a K1 and training in a K2 for Dusi right, I’m a little bit worried about January at this stage!” admitted Khwela.
“Banetse (Nkhoesa) and I will travel and stay in Underberg together, as a team, even though we can’t paddle on the river together.”
While spectacular scenery and crystal clear water are near certainties for the N3TC Drak Challenge annually, predicting what the water level will be is a difficult task due to the race taking place so close the mighty Mzimkhulu’s source.
As KZN remains ravaged by drought, Khwela is unsure of what to expect come 2016’s Drak Challenge but is hopeful the river will fill in order to heighten his chances of a top ten finish.
“I definitely prefer it when the river is fuller rather than lower because when its low then it’s very technical,” explained Khwela.
“I’m not sure whether or not we’ll get enough thunderstorms in the right places before the race so we’ll just have to see what happens.”