This year’s Spier Eerste River Challenge set to take place on Heritage Day promises to be bigger and better than ever before not only because it will double up as the SA Wild Water Champs but it will see the strongest field of top canoeists ever from all over the country taking part.
Last year’s winner Louw van Riet from Maties Canoe Club who is presently in good form after a fifth position in the Berg Marathon earlier this year will face an onslaught of recent Duzi, Fish and Berg Marathon gold medalists such as Lance Kime, Jacques Theron, and Shaun Griffen. Tipped for a podium position will be the under 23 rising star Brandon Orpwood from Kwazulu-Natal this year’s SA Junior and African Slalom Champion. After his absence last year Owen Gandar from Maties Canoe Club will certainly take another shot at the podium with the 2011 and 2012 Spier Eerste Challenge titles in his pocket.
In the ladies department the 2013 Spier Eerste River Challenge champ Hillary Pitchford from Natal Canoe Club will face the likes of Kirsten Penderis (Maties), Nicky Mocke (Peninsula) Tamika Haw (Maties), and Alex Adie (Peninsula).
The Eerste River events will kick off with the SA Wild Water Championships on Tuesday, 23 September at 14:00 starting with the Individual Sprint Event over a distance of some 500m followed by the 8.3km Individual Classic Event, which starts at Piet Retief Bridge and finishes at Spier Wine Estate. These two events are for rudderless K1 canoes only, and the male and female canoeist with the best combined times for both events will be SA Wild Water Champion 2014.
All of this will be followed by the 11.3km Spier Eerste River Challenge on Heritage Day, 24 September from Hangbrug to Spier. This is for normal K1s with rudders but for A-grade paddlers only. This little dash is under 40 minutes and no paddler in contention for a good position can afford to miss a stroke. Last year’s top five were only separated by seconds: Louw van Riet (38:43); Thulani Mbanjwa (38:48); Ernest van Riet (38:53); Gavin White (39:42) and Sbonelo Khwela (39:46).
To top it all a King and Queen of the Spier Eerste Challenge will also be crowned this year. This will be the male and female canoeist with the best combined times in all three events.
All these events are of course part of the e’Bosch River Festival where crowds taking part in the Stellenbosch heritage festivities will cheer canoeists on as they pass the main festival site in Die Laan at 10:00 on Heritage Day. Water levels are guaranteed through water release from dams upstream. See www.heritagefestival.co.za for more information.