While the eyes of the canoeing world focus on the Sella Descent in Spain this weekend, it will be a special moment for two South African paddlers as Kevin Culverwell and Paul Chalupsky take part to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their victory in the world biggest canoeing race in 1969.
Pietermaritzburg-based Culverwell, now 70 and Durban resident Chalupsky, 82, have been invited as special guests of the race and flown out and accommodated for the duration as part of Coca-Cola’s campaign to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the first South African crew to win the race.
Both have been training for the event and are flattered at the attention that have been getting.
“We will be some sort of presentation at the City Hall on the Friday night before the race, which will be exciting,” said Culverwell.
But the pair are defiant that they want to repeat their 1969 victory and paddle under the bridge at the coastal town of Ribadesella.
“We have been entered in the Over 70 age group, which means that we have to finish with the juniors at a bridge about two-thirds of way down the course. But Paul and I have decided that we want to paddle the whole way to the sea to celebrate our win fifty years ago,” said Culverwell.
The pair raced the commemorative Sella Descent with all the past winners eight years ago, where they finished eighth in the Over 50 age group, even though Chalupsky was 74 years old.
“It’s amazing! Paul and I got into a boat together and it was just like old times,” said Culverwell. “It is one of those combinations that just works.”
He vividly recalls the 1969 race and the excitement at realising they were leading the biggest race in the world.
“We were seeded sixteenth and it was a real bunfight at the start. The field was very competitive and we realised we were leading after about five kilometres.
“We held off a Norwegian crew that had medalled at the Olympic 10 000 metres and a Spanish crew was third. It was such a revelation to paddle under the bridge at the finish to win the race,” he recalls.
“We were paddling a Glider, which friends had built for us in the UK and transported over the Spain for the race. That was the sprint boat of the day.
“Being South African paddlers we were so used to paddling in big water that the boat and the river were no problem to us at all.
“This year the organisers say they have organised a ‘stable’ boat for us! We will get to it on the Friday before the race and set it up,” he added.
Paul Chalupsky will be supported on the big occasion by his two sons Oscar and Herman, winners of the Sella Descent themselves in 1986, but they are going to race hard in their own K2 race and won’t be there to escourt their father on his commemorative paddle.