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

Christie planning on a second win

UNDERBERG – World Championship medalist and defending race champion Christie Mackenzie is focused on a repeat victory in the N3TC Drak Challenge title in Underberg this coming weekend.

Having done her first race as a young teenager, it was always a box she needed to tick. After numerous top three finishes, she secured her maiden win in the race last year – and she is determined not to give up the top step of the podium easily.

“I love the Umzimkhulu River. It’s my favourite and it’s where I started my love affair with paddling,” said the 24-year-old. “My Dad Kenneth was a strong paddler when he was younger and we used to paddle the Umzimkhulu together. As a farm girl from the Ixopo area, it’s an environment I enjoy and where I like to perform my best.”

Nurturing her paddling talent at Epworth School in Pietermaritzburg before finishing matric at Our Lady of Fatima School in Durban, Mackenzie has fond memories of her first river race with her Dad, the Tugela 20, a two-day race covering 20km on two days.

“He gave me the ultimate challenge. I was 15 and as we were about to start the race when he told me I was in front, the driver of the boat. I protested as I had never done this before, but there was no choice as he said it was the only way for me to learn the challenges of river paddling,” she said.

It was a key moment in what continues to be a budding paddling career. With grandparents who live in Underberg, right on the doorstep of the Umzimkhulu River, it has afforded Mackenzie the opportunity to spend a week in late December last year training and tripping the waters with younger brother Hamish and Underberg local and one of the men’s race favourites, Scott Little.

“We did 20km a day as I am more than determined to win again. An earlier trip to Mozambique saw me contract malaria, which has been a slight setback in my preparation, but time on the river has restored my confidence,” she said.

Currently working and living in Umhlanga and under the guidance of her coach Matt Bouman, a South African surfski legend, Mackenzie does most of her paddling at sea which is an interesting dynamic when it comes to river racing.

“With Blue Lagoon’s water not that clean, I do ocean training off Durban and at La Mercy. There is a lake at Mount Edgcombe we use as well, but being on the sea is definitely a shock to the system,” she said. “There are so many variables, such as current, wind, swells and constant movement, but it does make me more comfortable to get back in the river. I used to fall out my boat quite a bit but the sea has helped me in that aspect in a big way.”

All these ingredients should give Mackenzie a definite edge at the Drak this year and, with the race changing this year, day one being the old day two and day two being the old day one, Mackenzie has weathered the mental challenge as well.

“That’s what it is and the race needs to be done. I have wrapped my head around the change, accepted what changes need to be made and it’s a case of getting the job done,” she said. “It could make for closer racing as day one will be easier, with less rapids and a less technical approach. It could come down to planning the race to perfection.”

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