Andy Birkett has confirmed he will be back on the start line for the N3TC Drak Challenge on 28 and 29 January, aiming to extend his unbroken winning streak to a ninth successive title.
The East London-based world champion makes no bones about the fact that the Drak remains one of his favourite events, and prizes the time training and racing on the clean uMzimkhulu River that runs through Underberg.
“For me it is one of my favourite places in the country.” said the Euro Steel team racer. “Every time I go down the river on a tripping session I pinch myself as I look around and see where we are paddling through.”
While Birkett will be spending the first two weeks of the new year in Underberg training on the river and enjoying a family holiday, he is adamant that he doesn’t dwell on trying to learn intricate lines down all the rapids.
“The river changes so much at different levels that I feel it is better to read it as you go,” he said.
“On race day the Drak always changes so you need to work on your river skills and just make good decisions.”
“The start, up at Castleburn, is always such chaos and you can’t say the line you want to go on will be open, so you just have to make decisions as you go.”
Birkett said that he was coming into the summer river racing season well rested since he scooped the marathon world title in Portugal in October.
“It’s been a forced rest in intermittent intervals since the world champs as I have been sick,” said Birkett. “I think that is my body’s way of saying it needs a bit of time off.
“It has been really nice getting onto the sea and spending time in my ski,” he added. “That also feels like a rest and a change of scenery.”
Birkett attributes his 2022 successes to a rethink on his paddling regime and the support and motivation from the Border training group he works with in East London.
“I have found myself in a good place and I am enjoying my paddling again. We’ve got a nice group going in East London that are all motivated and training towards specific goals, and you feed off that enthusiasm. I have also stepped into a coaching role which I am really enjoying and giving back a bit.
“The whole Drak weekend has become so enjoyable, with the trail run and the cycle race. It creates a really great atmosphere.
“After Day One we like to take the family and go horse riding and go to the water slides, so it becomes a great weekend away for our whole family,” he added.