The second and final stage of the two-day Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon offered paddlers variety with weirs, rapids, portages, an irrigation canal and the spectacular Neus Gorge. With paddlers set off at intervals, it was a sure bet that one of the first four – the winning bunch from Day 1 – would claim the stage and overall win. Thulani Mbanjwe was first across the line and overall winner of the fourth edition of this canoe race.
The portage at Die Punt marked the first significant strategic move of the day. Jakub Adam, Stuart Maclaren, Tom Schilperpoort and Mbanjwa exited the river together but, by the end of the portage, Adam and Mbanjwa had dropped the other pair.
"I knew Jakub was strong and I wanted to work with him," says Mbanjwa. The two stuck together, working hard to gain time on the chasers.
"We got to the gorge together," says Mbanjwa, "and I went through the entry rapid first. Jakub must have swum because when I looked back I couldn't see him."
Adam did swim and by the time he had reached the side, emptied his boat and got back on the water, Simon van Gysen was coming through.
Van Gysen had a magical day. He started in the second batch, but leapfrogged ahead on the first portage to put in with Maclaren and Schilperpoort.
"Going through the Neus Gorge entry rapid I saw that Jakub had fallen out. He came back to join me and Tom," says van Gysen. "We worked together but they were a bit too strong for me at the finish." Nonetheless, van Gysen logged the fastest time for Day 2.
A few hundred metres before the end of the day's section, the river splits into two channels. Van Gysen and Schilperpoort went left; Adam went right.
"The channel made a big difference," says Adam. "When I came out, I saw Tom ahead of me at the finish."
In the women's race, the starting order held with Abby Solms taking the stage and overall win.
Paddlers had been briefed to either paddle the 1.6-kilometre irrigation canal or run the distance. The canal was marked as a non-competitive section where paddlers were restricted from overtaking.
Solms chose to paddle and the two men racing alongside her, Mpilo Zondi and Nkosikayise Cele from the 'Change A Life' Academy, chose to run – the only ones to do so. Considering the time it takes to put-in and take-out, the men reckoned that they could run the distance faster.
"I went past them on the canal and it was an easy paddle," says Solms. "There was no point racing to get ahead because I wanted to work with them on the river. I had to run really hard on the portage because they're so much faster than me." Solms finished the stage with Zondi.
The prize allocation for the Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon is exceptional. The total prize purse is R300,000 and winners walk away with R20,000 each. Men and women receive equal reward, with overall positions and age categories collecting cash prizes sponsored by Northern Cape Department of Economic Development & Tourism. Most paddlers also return home with treasures from the lucky draw, which are sponsored by Epic Kayaks, ARK Inflatables, Mocke Paddling, Orka Paddles, Second Skins, AQRate, Kalahari Ancient Desert Secrets, Pink Lady, Inova Pharmaceuticals, Lahoud & Nieuwoudt and Northern Cape Tourism.
Photographs from the Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon can be viewed on the event's Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/gkcanoemarathon
Information and dates for next year's event will be published on the event website at www.gkcm.co.za