After producing the standout performance of the 2016 N3TC Drak Challenge, Owen Gandar is keen to repeat or even better, his 2016 third place effort when the two day canoe marathon takes place on the uMzimkulu River in the Southern Drakensberg on 21 and 22 January.
While not quite being in the same shape as he was this time last year, the lanky, likeable and easy-going competitor is relishing the opportunity to repeat the occasion – a memorable and defining moment in Gandar’s still young career.
“Finishing third at last year’s Drak is definitely the highlight of my paddling career so far, especially because Drak is such a special race for me,” confirms 25 year-old Gandar.
“I’m not quite as fit now as I was then so we’ll have to wait and see as to whether I’ll be able to do it again this year or not, but either way, I’m keen to give Drak a good go!” he adds.
Having progressed from the Under-23 Men’s category at the end of 2015, Gandar’s third place – behind Euro Steel’s Andy Birkett and paddling prodigy Len Jenkins – sounded his arrival amongst the country’s elite senior paddling ranks.
The result also paved the way for a memorable few months on the river as he went on to finish sixth in February’s FNB Dusi and third in the STIHL Umko in March, both with paddling partner Murray Starr.
A year on and now deeply entrenched in the working world, Gandar’s time is more limited than during his care-free days spent at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape, limiting his training opportunities.
“Having been out of the boat pretty much since Umko, I started training again towards the end of November.
“With me now living behind Durban Underwater Club in Durban, I’ve been trying to do as much surfski paddling as possible and so have used that as a means of training whenever I can.”
The Southern Drakensberg, and the Underberg/Himeville region in particular, is a cherished location for Gandar and one he spends as much time visiting as possible – including the recent festive season – while the uMzimkulu and the Drak Challenge both hold dear places in heart.
“Personally I enjoy the more technical stuff and so the Drak, being on the uMzimkulu, allows me to keep up with the other guys a bit better than on some of the other flatter races.
“The Drak is some of the best paddling in the country and with the scenery and clean water, I think it is a race that all paddlers look forward to going to.”
While the likes of Birkett and Euro Steel/Kayak Centre’s Hank McGregor – who pulled out of last year’s race midway through day two due to illness – will again be expected to battle it out at the front of the field, Gandar – together with his former Maties buddies, Starr and Andrew Houston – may well provide a fascinating tussle for the minor placings.
The 2017 N3TC Drak Challenge Canoe Marathon takes place in the Southern Drakensberg on 21 and 22 January 2017.