Upington – The canoeing spotlight shifts to the Northern Cape this weekend when the SA K1 and K2 River championships are decided on the two-day Orange Descent marathon, with eleven-times world champ Hank McGregor heading the elite tussle for the last two national titles to be decided in 2020.
The heavy rainfall at the start of the week has filtered into the river system and organisers are expecting around 60 cumecs of water, providing a near perfect level for the unique 54km two-stage outing through Upington.
As part of the Canoeing South Africa drive to reschedule all the national championships that were cancelled under lockdown regulations, the event has been awarded the rights to decide the single and double river marathon titles, with the 26km first stage doubling as the SA K1 and the second stage as the SA K2 river champs.
McGregor tops a field that will include the new SA K1 flatwater marathon champ Hamish Lovemore, double defending Orange champion Thulani Mbanjwa and Gauteng-based speedsters Clint Cook and Wayne Jacobs amongst several other elites.
The nature of the Orange River course for this event makes it generally very accessible for newcomers, but it does has a number of unique challenges and features.
The 26km opening stage from Keimoes to Kakemas has a number of big rapids in the Neus Gorge, and the unusual 1,3km paddle down a fast-flowing canal after the portage around the Neus weir.
The 28km second stage from Upington to Oranjerus has a larger percentage of flatwater, which will suit the cut-and-thrust of typical K2 marathon racing tactics, but there are challenges at Raaswater and Oukamp rapids and a new chute down the weir five kilometres from the finish.
The second stage will feature some interesting K2 combinations, including the reunion in the boat for brothers Hamish and Tom Lovemore.
The women’s race will be decided by the likes of the Tracey Oellerman, Melanie van Niekerk and a return to racing for Kirsten Penderis. It remains to be seen how many all-women’s K2 crews line up for the national title decider on Sunday as many seem to be leaning towards mixed doubles entries instead.
The event has a well established reputation for warm Northern Cape hospitality, and the weekend will include tasting of local wines and a sunset cruise.