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Last Sunday was a cold winter’s morning, but that didn’t deter a bunch of our Dabs Darlings who went on a Vaal trip with some old river dogs. This was them before they set off: Gabby, Caren, Claudia, Renschi, Sarah, Pippa, Sylvia, Kevin, Gavin, Peter, Michelle, Richard, Gunther, (and Pierre). Some had more fun than others, and all learnt a lot.

Our club secretaries report: “Went down the river with Pierre in a K2. We swam 3 times and were eventually “extracted” due to hypothermia concerns. I have scrapes and bruises but have huge respect for the river. Learning taken from this trip: Go in the back of a K2 with an experienced paddler first, then try K1… Geachie, Kevin Hunt and Gunther were amazing!” The guys and girls are planning more river trips and we will keep you posted as to when and where the next ones will be.

In cycling news, well done to Woody Wilson who completed the 608km Ride to Paarl on Tuesday, after six days in the saddle. Also on the same ride was an ex-Dabs member who lives in Durban and is still an active paddler, with over 30 Dusi’s to his name. Rowan Matthews was clearly racing as he spent only three and a half days out there to win the stage; this after coming second in last year’s RASA. For Woody and his touring companions (Chris Charter, Andrew Roy and Ann Harrison) following a very long, hard, cold, windy, wet and muddy day one, the weather and the trail conditions improved and with this so did the enjoyment levels. After finishing, this is what he had to say: “Incredible scenery and Cape hospitality interspersed with tough conditions in the mud and wind, but an amazing adventure.”

Gavin Horton won the full RASA of 2135km in 13.5 days, and we wait to hear if Woody is now tempted to tour that. What we do know is that, although right there, he didn’t do the Berg. Only one man started the Extreme Ultra; he ran the Comrades in 11hours 51minutes, then spent 21 days on the ride from Pietermaritzburg to Paarl, but bailed on day 1 of the Berg; the paddling part showing as it did last year, that the Berg is no push over. We wonder who the first Dabs person will be to complete this Extreme Ultra?

Berg 2023 headlines were dominated by flood levels a week before the race. Fortunately the rains abated; when the race started the river was still flowing full and fast and the sun was shining. U23 Jeremy Maher took the line honours on day one, but there were just 3 seconds separating the top 4, including Thomas Lovemore, David Evans and Hank McGregor; who had made a last-minute entry. They averaged 15kph for the 62km stage. Day two to Bridgetown, the shortest leg of just 46km, renowned for lots of tricky tree blocks (made worse by the foods), saw Hank get dropped after picking a few dead-end channels, but he worked his way back, burnt some matches, and ended the stage over two-minutes ahead of Maher and Lovemore. The results of day 1 and day 2 typically determine the winner because the Berg organisation is different in that they have a normal elite batch start for day 1, then an elapsed start time for day 2, but then they go back to batch starts for day 3 and day 4. As a consequence and as in most previous races, once the likes of a Hank or an Andy had gained what they considered to be a safe cushion, they then typically just stayed with the bunch for the next two days to take the win. This year was no different; Hank didn’t win the long 75km stage 3 to Zoutkloof, but he was in a bunch of 4 who finished within seconds of each other, and his two-minute lead remained intact. On day 4, for the 57km to Velddrif Hank then beat Maher and Lovemore by 30 seconds to claim the stage win and his 13th Berg title; further cementing his GOAT status. Well done Hank; we hope you do as well in the World Surfski Champs later this year.

In the women’s race many assumed that the former winner Bianca Beavitt would walk away with the title, but in only her second Berg, U23 Christy Shrimpton took a 10-minute lead on day 1 and ended up winning by over half an hour.

Well done to Phineas, Dylan, Ethan and Rob on completing their maiden Berg’s, and well done to Moolies who is now on 9 (and will no doubt be soliciting company for his 10th next year), Mat who has now done 14 and Ryno who has now done 16. Fantastic for father and son (Mat and Ethan) to be out there together; sadly Dave got sick before the race, but he looked like he really enjoyed seconding Dylan and says he will be there next year. Hopefully we will have a much bigger contingent from Dabs and SCARC next year.

Respect to Oom Jannie Malherbe, who at the age of 83 finished his 50th Berg River Marathon. He is now one of 4 who have completed 50 or more ultra-river marathons including the late Oom Giel (Berg), Charlie Mason (Umko) and Lyle Wheeler (Dusi). Incredible achievers. Respect also to Ralph Teulings, a staunch Dab’s member back in the early 80’s, who completed his 40th Berg. Yoh Mr. Tulips, Yoh!

Sadly, the Berg followed the current downhill trend of all our major river races, including the likes of the Fish, Dusi and Drak, recording its lowest number of finishers since 1974; with just 63 paddlers completing this iconic race. While many find the Berg costs (from entry fees to traveling and staying away to taking a week off work) prohibitive, and while others who could have been real challengers in both the men’s and women’s races stayed away to focus on the World Marathon Champs, it really was disappointing to see an SA River Championship race so poorly contested/supported.

So how did the Berg, an event that attracted just 72 entrants (of which only 3 were women, all from WCCU while only 14 guys were from outside of the WCCU); and an event that has averaged at just 82 finishers in its last 5 years, get to be given the status of SA K1 River Champs? Listening to those in the know, the Fish River being the most central venue, has the privilege of hosting SA K1’s in one year and SA K2’s in the following year, and then the other major Unions get turns to host what is left. So by way of example, in 2022 the ECCU hosted the SA K1’s on the Fish and this year they will host the SA K2’s; then because for 2023 it was the turn of WCCU to host the alternate race (i.e. SA K1’s), they chose the Berg to stand as SA Champs. Which looking at the support levels, clearly wasn’t a great option. Going forward Fish will continue to host SA K1’s in one year and SA K2’s the next year but the plan is to have the different Unions bid to host the alternate SA K1 and K2 River Champs towards ensuring that participation is as great as possible by selecting the most suitable races for the nation, not just the provincial union. All of that said, SA River Champs or not, if you can go do the Berg, you really should; because as Oom Giel liked to say: “you can’t call yourself a real paddler until you have done the Berg” and if you have been before; you will know that simply finishing is a proper paddling achievement.

Well done to our juniors at the World Championship Sprints in the picturesque Auronzo, Italy where Jordan Klopper and Caity Evans came 6th in the B final of the K2 500m mixed doubles. This means they now have an international ranking of 15th in the world, while Jordan is ranked 25th in the K1’s, making their parents very proud. A fantastic experience for them, and we hope they go from strength to strength.

In other news, Michelle was bust doing some sneak surfski training down in Durban – good for you Michelle, we hope to see you styling at Pete Marlin! You didn’t know we have reporters everywhere – did you?

There were also some stories we weren’t going to share, but then decided we should, to serve as reminders for all, but without naming or shaming. Some of us don’t have safe storage for our car keys when paddling. One of us simply put his keys in his jacket last weekend, and they ended up at the bottom of the dam, never to be seen again. Unfortunately he didn’t have a spare and had to call the locksmiths. The other recent tale of woe was about a guy who forgot he had a boat on his roof when he drove into his garage. Needless to say, the boat came of second best. To make matters worse, the boat was a brand new Nelo. Ouch. Sorry guys.

Upcoming stuff includes the Centurion 9 Miler at Rietvlei Dam on Saturday 22nd – the good people from that side of town always put on an event well worth supporting. Then the Dabblers are playing at 5pm that same evening at the clubhouse to raise funds for our international racers. The Dabs Mixed Double League is on again on Thursday 27th and then on August 12th and 13th it’s the Tugela 20’s; lots of our Dabs Darlings are going for fun, what about you?