After finishing second in 2019 and fourth this year, Underberg local Stew Little is hoping to reclaim a spot on the podium at the N3TC Drak Challenge in partnership with FNB on the weekend of 30 and 31 January 2021.

Little has quickly made his mark as an Under 23 pacesetter, and is often in the mix at the front of major races on the national canoeing calendar, but he sees his hometown canoeing major as a top priority.

“Living in Underberg means that Drak is always going to be a priority for me, but I won’t lie things have been a little bit different this year,” said Little, who like many elite paddlers has been shackled by the lockdown and the scrapping of dozens of canoeing races.

“I haven’t been paddling nearly as much as I would normally, and running more, so I have to work on picking up my paddling heading into the Drak.

“I am also having a serious go at the Dusi as well, and to do well there you have to really focus on your running,” said the Euro Steel racer.

Little has been based for much of the year in Cape Town where the Bamboo Warehouse employee trains on the vlei with the elite Cape training group that includes paddlers like Nick Notten and Uli Hart.

Little spends significant time tripping and training on the river with the other Underberg paddlers, aided by the arrival of good summer rains that have filled the uMzimkhulu river to almost ideal paddling conditions.

The race has developed a reputation as a grooming ground for emerging Under 23 and junior elite paddlers, and often gives an early insight into future stars that will be regular visitors to the senior podiums at major races. Little however places little emphasis on trying to win his age group.

“The only race that counts is racing against the top guys,” he said. “This year it was Andy (Birkett), Hank (McGregor), Hamish (Lovemore) and myself, and that was really good fun.

“These guys are all so fast, and they probably know the river as well as I do,” he said.

Little can count on a lot of support from the locals in the Underberg and Himeville, and won’t disappoint with the effort he puts in.

“Last year I gave it a full go but I was just hanging onto the back. When Hamish decided to go there wasn’t a lot I could do about it!”

If he can get his paddling to peak at the level he know is needed, the cheerful youngster could well repeat the second place that shook the canoeing community in 2019.