The unique Cradle Moon Lake outside Johannesburg will this weekend play host to the 2019 South African Canoe Marathon over three days of the long weekend, with some of the best paddlers in the world confirmed in the starting line-up.
South Africa has historically been a world canoe marathon powerhouse and this year will be no different with current men’s world K1 and K2 champion Andy Birkett heading to the selection event ahead of the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in China in October.
Birkett will team up with his 2018 K2 world title winning partner and Euro Steel team mate Hank McGregor for the doubles event and will be the out-and-out favourites.
Interestingly, having retired from K1 marathon racing in 2018, nine-time K1 world champion McGregor has thrown his name into the K1 hat once again, dramatically spicing up the K1 contest because just two boats per category qualify for the South African team to the global showpiece.
There will be a number of strong boats vying for one of those coveted spots in the national team. The likes of Clinton Cook, Brandon van der Walt, Stu Maclaren and Nick Notten are all on the entry list and capable of finishing on the podium.
The senior women’s K1 field will also be competitive with a handful of paddlers jostling for the two spots on the plane to Shaoxing.
Bridgitte Hartley will lead the charge having represented South Africa in the two previous World Championships in a K1, but Nikki Birkett and Jenna Ward will also push the Olympic star.
The Under 23 Men’s race that will be the first race on the three day programme will be another closely contested race and there are a number of paddlers set to battle it out for the honour of representing South Africa.
Former junior bronze medallist Alex Masina lines up against Louis Hattingh, Stewart Little, Hamish Lovemore, Alan Houston and surfski ace Josh Fenn.
The Under 23 women’s field features the class of Kyeta Purchase and Christie Mackenzie up against an unknown threat from the contingent of visiting Australian paddlers.
The junior boys race has a big entry, however you might not need to look past Uli Hart and Matt Fenn as your one and two, with David Evans also a contender along with his Maritzburg College team mate Hamish Mackenzie.
In the under 18 girls race Zara Wood and Amy Peckett are the two paddlers to watch out for and will fight it out for the top step of the podium.
The K2 racing is narrowed down to seniors and juniors so Under 23 combinations have to race in the senior division.
Birkett and McGregor will be the clear favourites in the men’s K2 race on Monday; however Stu Maclaren and Nick Notten will provide a formidable test for the top pair. Clinton Cook and Brandon van der Walt will also be in the podium hunt.
Alex Masina and Louis Hattingh will be a future combination to look out for as the Under 23 pair take on the seniors.
Bridgitte Hartley and Christie Mackenzie will be another tough nut to crack in their second consecutive year as a K2 combination. Jenna Ward and Kyeta Purchase will also rekindle a partnership that saw them win a world championship silver medal in a K2 in 2016.
In the junior K2 category Matt Fenn and Uli Hart will team up again for a shot at the national title and they will have to compete with 2017 World Champs silver medallists Hamish Mackenzie and David Evans for the title.
Sam Butcher and Matthew Millward could also prove to be a strong combination in the junior boys K2 showdown.
The junior girls race will probably be a two boat race with Amy Peckett teaming up with Nosipho Mthembu while Zara Wood will be tackling the race with Jade Wilson.
The event will also incorporate races from Under 8 to masters over the age of 65, and includes C-boat and para-canoeing classes.