Six times N3TC Drak Challenge champion Ant Stott is relishing a return to the Mzimklhulu River on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 January, sizing up his sixteenth Drak medal on the race he rates so highly.
Last year he opted not to paddle as business interests, a new marriage and his Dusi training with his mother kept him away from Underberg on the weekend of the race, while the year before he was sidelined by a nasty ankle injury, suffered running on the banks of Thrombi Gorge on the Mzimkhulu River.
Stott is now relishing the prospect of returning to the Drak this weekend, and reuniting with a river that he has a special attachment to.
“My races on the Mzimkhulu have gone OK over the years and I really love that section of river and the whole Underberg community,” said Stott.
He said that he was reading the list of “Drak Trouts” on the race website and considering that his total number of finishes would have been 17, placing him joint sixth on the race’s all time finishers list, had he not missed the last two years.
Stott said that the 2016 race would be particularly interesting for him as he would have to race against his Matelec/Popes Canoe Centre/Agrisales team mate Carl Folscher with whom he is racing the K2 FNB Dusi with in a month’s time.
“Carl has been doing all the training, so it’s going to be tough for me this weekend,” chuckled Stott.
“I have raced at a high level so I know what is required to do well, and I reckon I am able to do about a quarter of that right now,” said Stott. “So it’s a case of doing the best I can with what is available.”
“I think of it as semi-competitive,” he added.
Stott, who has several business interests, including a paddle-ski manufacturing business that is thriving under his control, said he could battle slightly with reading the lines of the rapids after a lengthy sabbatical from the race.
“I like a technically demanding river and having to read the lines in every rapid as you find them, but I might find my knowledge of the rapids and their lines is a little rusty this weekend,” said Stott.
The 37 year old has a long and colourful history on the river, with numerous successes and a few lowlights, including breaking his ankle as a youngster tubing on the Lower Mzimkhulu.
“My first exposure to canoeing as a competitive sport was on the Mzimkhulu in Underberg when as a five year old tubing on the river I saw a canoeing race being held there, and watched in awe as guys like Oscar Chalupsky came past me,” recalls Stott.
Stott had to sit out the Drak Challenge in 2004 when he arrived as defending champion and hot favourite to win a fourth back-to-back title when he reported feeling unwell, and on examination had an unexplained racing resting heart-rate which forced him to sit out that race.
“I can’t wait to get back onto the river,” said Stott. “It has always been one of my all time favourites, and while I don’t think I will be making any podiums, with a little luck a top ten will be brilliant.”
The N3TC Drak Challenge takes place on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 January 2016.
Ant Stott victories on the N3TC Drak Challenge
1999 2 hrs 59 mins (Low Course)
2001 4 hrs 14 mins
2002 4 hrs 17 mins (with Deon Bruss K2)
2003 3 hrs 38 mins
2005 3 hrs 40 mins
2009 3 hrs 50 mins
All time N3TC Drak titles
6 – Ant Stott
3 – Len Jenkins, Hank McGregor
2 – Andy Birkett