Intended on unashamedly offering a bold alternative to the traditional river canoe marathon experience, the innovative Bamboo Warehouse Push And Pull Paddle gets under way from Val De Vie estate outside Paarl on Women’s Day Friday 9 August.
The first stage of the three day, 65km race has been dedicated to women involved in canoeing, and the first batch to set off from the Val De Vie estate will be entirely made up of women.
The initiative has not gone unnoticed and the race has attracted a big entry of female paddlers, including the dominant Berg paddler Bianca “Bubbles” Beavitt, Dusi medallist Bianca Haw and Eastern Cape ace Nikki Birkett, with reigning K1 Dusi winner Christie Mackenzie adding her name to the fray as a late entry this week.
Under 23 Tracey Oellerman as well as Kim Van Gysen will throw everything at the AQRate bridge prize just 3,3 kilometres into the short first stage in a bid to claim the first scalp of the highlight-laden event.
Should Birkett’s speed carry her to that first bridge prize, that will open the door for a unique double because her husband Andy Birkett will fancy his chances of taking the men’s equivalent from the second batch.
The current men’s K1 and K2 world champion is meticulously preparing for the defence of both titles in Shaoxing, China in October, and after opting out of the Hansa Fish in September, he will be looking forward to a heated contest over the three stages to play a key role in his training.
That heat could well come from the most stacked men’s field to assemble for a race in the Western Cape for many years, including the on-form Nicky Notten, Simon van Gysen, Under 23 ace Stew Little, Mark Keeling, Stu Maclaren and Berg icon Graeme Solomon.
Add to that a big pack of hungry youngsters including the Hart brothers Uli and Anders, Luke McNish, Zach Preyser and Bartho Visser, mix in Berg veterans Paul Marais, Edgar Boehm, Heinrich Schloms, Louw and Ernest van Riet, and for good measure the return of Dusi champion Lance Kime and former marathon world champ Shaun Rubesntein, and the contest for podium places will be very intense.
With a second hot spot on the first stage, the Paarl Web Printers hot spot, at the put-in below the Market Street weir, the short, sharp first stage will be action-packed.
The overnight stop at the Berg River Brewery will include live music and extensive opportunity to sample the proprietor’s finest brews, with the athletes staying in an upmarket tented village.
Day Two will be a longer 36 kilometre stage down to the overnight village the Blou Porselein Guest Farm, the home of riding young paddling star Bartho Visser, taking in the key attractions of the Berg Marathon first day.
Saturday afternoon will offer a sprawling craft market showcasing local farmers products and an opportunity to sample local wines before another evening of entertainment and live music.
The short 13 kilometre final stage takes the paddlers to Delsma Farm for the final race prize giving.
“We have tried to approach the concept of a canoeing race differently,” said race organiser Brandon Macleod. “We recognise that paddlers have families to take care of, so we are trying to create a hospitable environment that caters for spouses, children and friends.”
“We have the privilege to paddle through a special part of the country in the Cape winelands, so the weekend is designed to make time to enjoy this.”
“We are conscious that we have to deliver really good value to the paddlers for their entry fee, and for those staying in the tented village and enjoying three meals a day I hope we will deliver on that promise.
“Yes we are approaching a paddling race differently, but that is also why we have called it the Push And Pull Paddle, because we are trying to coax the sport into a new era,” he added.