Paddlers from Pietermaritzburg and its surrounds shone at the South African Canoe Marathon Championships on the weekend, led by the Natal Canoe Club K2 teams of Andy Birkett and Louis Hattingh, and Abby Solms and Bridgitte Hartley, who captured the men’s and women’s senior titles respectively.
Hattingh doubled up with a victory in the men’s under-23 race, while Michaelhouse’s Jean van der Westhuyzen claimed the boys’ under-18 win and Hamish McKenzie of Maritzburg College lifted the under-16 title.
In girls’ action Epworth’s Christie McKenzie partnered Sabina Lawrie to the K2 under-18 honours ahead of the Pietermaritzburg Girls High pair of Jessica and Katie Croudace.
The masters’ competition delivered numerous titles for NCC with Melissa van Rooyen picking up K1 gold in the sub-vet category, multiple world champ Marion Young winning the veteran women’s title, and Mandy Hoddinott taking the honours in the sub-masters.
Van Rooyen and Hoddinott teamed up to capture the sub-vet K2 title, while Young partnered Kim Peek to the veterans win.
“It’s fantastic and I am really proud of the people that made the trek to Cape Town, and very happy with the ladies that did so well. And Gavin Tarr also did well. He came third in a very competitive age category,” NCC General Manager Brett Austen Smith commented.
Commenting on why the club’s masters’ paddlers are performing at such a high level, he continued: “I think it has a lot to do with the atmosphere and facilities at the club. It is very conducive to a social, fun environment. It shows in our masters that are paddling through the winter. The vibe on a Thursday evening [when we hold our weekly dice] is very positive and social.”
The women’s K2 win by Solms and Hartley was hard-fought as they battled under-23 star Jenna Ward and under-18 standout Kyeta Purchase, who had placed fifth in the senior women’s race at the 2015 ICF Canoe Marathon Championships, for the title.
While Ward and Purchase regularly train together, sprint queen Hartley has been preparing for the Rio Olympics, so she and Solms had spent little time together in the boat before the weekend’s racing in Cape Town.
“It went well. There is lots of room for improvement. We felt reasonably comfortable in those conditions. There was a bit of wind every now and then, but we had no major issues. We were happy,” Solms said.
“It was fun. I think it was nice for Bridgitte to go in there with no pressure and no expectations. It was an enjoyable race and it fitted in with Bridgitte’s training programme.”
Commenting on the success of the KwaZulu-Natal contingent, she said: “It was enjoyable to be part of such a strong [KZN] team. There was a good vibe and team spirit from NCC [paddlers]. We all hit it off and did things together. It gave me confidence having my team-mates there and doing everything together.”
Andy Birkett was pipped by reigning world champion Hank McGregor for the K1 title after an end-sprint, but then joined forces with Louis Hattingh to capture the K2 honours, with McGregor having to partner Siseko Ntondini after his regular partner, Jasper Mocké, withdrew due to illness.
“It was great. We felt really good in the boat together,” Birkett said of his partnership with Hattingh.
“I am enjoying sitting behind Louis. He races a good race tactically.”
The six-time Dusi champ continued: “His future looks good. Last year, he wasn’t focussing on marathons and he didn’t even make the under-23 team.
“This is the first year that he has ever raced seniors at the SA Marathon Champs and he chuckled afterwards and said ‘Flip, first year racing seniors and we just won SA K2s. Not a bad introduction to the racing’.”