The most fun you can have canoeing! 28, 29 January 2023

Both champions raise the bar

Underberg – Andy Birkett won his eighth title at the iconic N3TC Drak Challenge canoe marathon in partnership with FNB while Abby Solms marked her return to the two-day classic by winning her ninth women’s title, in the process becoming the race’s most decorated champion.

Birkett and Hank McGregor started the 39 kilometre final stage from Swartberg Bridge to Early Mist Farm together and for much of the testing stage on a full uMzimkhulu River the pair could not be separated.

Birkett budgeted tactically on the race ending in a sprint over the last few kilometres, and managed to shake off the tenacious McGregor with a tactical gamble in the closing stages, only to find that the race finish had been moved several hundred metres downstream.

“I timed my sprint to be able to get to where the finish normally is, and when I got there I looked around and there was nobody there!” said Birkett.

“Then I saw the tents further downstream and we had to shoot another big rapid to get there,” said the Euro Steel star.

The full river forced Birkett to adjust his strategies as he sought fast but safer lines through the big rapids.

“It is the first time I have not shot the Hell side of Heaven & Hell rapid and opted for the Heaven line instead, and that is where I managed to get a two boat length lead over Hank.

“It all came from a chat with (his MyLife Dusi partner) Dave Evans last night, and from watching all the videos on the race website. It just seems that more water is flowing down that side. It was a gamble that paid off.” he said.

While Birkett shies away from the record that he extended by winning his eighth title, he was adamant that the race and the region it runs through means a lot to him.

“I really enjoy this part of the country and we are so lucky to just be able to paddle down this river.

“It is one of those races that is not governed by a dam release so you are at the mercy of mother nature, and we were really luck this weekend,” he added.

Under 23 racer Dave Evans wrapped up third ahead of a charging Banetse Nkhoesa and another Under 23 rising star Matt Millward rounding out the top five.

The women’s race fell to overnight leader Abby Solms, who managed to hold off the concerted efforts of the chasers Christie Mackenzie and Jordy Peek.

Solm’s win extends her run of victories at the race to nine, making her the race’s most consistently successful champion, which she attributes to her years of experience on the uMzimkhulu River at every possible river level.

“I surprised myself!” she enthused. “I wouldn’t say it felt like home but I do feel so comfortable here and enjoyed the water so much.

With a significant overnight lead in the bank Solms turned to the male paddlers around her to keep the pace high, and her chasers at bay.

“It was great mixing it up with the men. It  helps you to push things along. It changes the dynamic of the race when you can’t drop off through a rapid, you just have to go full gas to hang onto them.

Matt Coetzer won a ding-dong duel with Jack Shooter to take the junior laurels, while new surfski world champion Saskia Hockly won the junior women’s category convincingly.

The fastest time overall was posted by the Gauteng K2 crew of Mike Arthur and Riccardo Talevi while Lance Kime’s eleventh hour entry with fellow Capetonian Anna Notten saw them claim the Mixed Double title.

1 Andy Birkett 1:27:10.43 2:17:11.24 3:44:21.67
2 Hank McGregor 1:27:11.69 2:17:38.91 3:44:50.60
3 David Evans 1:29:17.94 2:18:17.40 3:47:35.35
4 Banetse Nkhoesa 1:29:19.61 2:18:21.37 3:47:40.98
5 Matthew Millward 1:28:44.55 2:20:07.39 3:48:51.95
6 Stewart Little 1:29:20.74 2:22:54.77 3:52:15.51
7 Siseko Ntondini 1:31:10.77 2:21:05.26 3:52:16.03
8 Bongani Ntinga 1:31:12.60 2:21:37.82 3:52:50.43
9 Jack Edmonds 1:31:12.05 2:21:39.30 3:52:51.35
10 Matthew Fenn 1:33:43.00 2:19:09.55 3:52:52.55

1 Riccardo Talevi/Michael Arthur 1:27:38.45 2:16:10.55 3:43:49.00
2 Owen Gandar/Theo York 1:36:36.73 2:28:52.52 4:05:29.26
3 Wim Van Herzeele/Benjamin Van Herzeele 1:37:15.80 2:28:58.00 4:06:13.81
4 Lance Kime/Anna Notten 1:38:19.41 2:28:53.88 4:07:13.30 (Mixed Double)
5 Paul Hatfield/Emma Hatfield 1:37:58.60 2:33:26.33 4:11:24.94 (Mixed Double)

1 Abby Solms 1:37:30.15 2:29:10.48 4:06:40.63
2 Christie Mackenzie 1:38:13.96 2:31:12.89 4:09:26.85
3 Jordan Peek 1:38:15.05 2:34:05.48 4:12:20.54
4 Bridgitte Hartley 1:40:55.85 2:33:12.17 4:14:08.03
5 Jenna Nisbet 1:41:45.50 2:40:06.55 4:21:52.05
6 Jen Theron 1:42:38.28 2:39:42.35 4:22:20.63
7 Saskia Hockly 1:45:17.20 2:37:28.13 4:22:45.33
8 Bianca Haw 1:52:56.93 2:44:00.05 4:36:56.99
9 Tabitha Hulett 1:49:34.09 2:54:18.70 4:43:52.79
10 Cara Waud 1:55:36.60 2:48:35.19 4:44:11.80