Local sport

Paddlers tackle tough Elands River in honour of Laetitia Scheepers

The level of the 23km stretch of the Elands River is dependent on rainfall, so the nature of the race lies entirely at the mercy of the elements. This year, the paddlers, both local and from around the country, faced fairly tough, low conditions and a strong warm headwind.

In memory of beloved local paddler Laetitia Scheepers who lost her life during a training trip on the Elands River on Valentine’s Day in 2009, the annual 3338 Elands Memorial Race took place on Saturday February 4.

The first 3338 was held in 2010.

Saturday’s race was hosted by the Lowveld Canoe Club. The Scheepers family were in attendance to remember and honour their daughter’s bubbly personality and love of the sport.

The exciting Elands River, with its downhill gradients and sharp, tight T-junction corners, great white-water drops and wave trains, once again provided an exciting challenge.

Thirty-four paddlers started just west of Sappi on the Elands River and took on the 24km adrenaline-filled race to Lindenau Farm. Nine of of the less experienced competitors found the conditions too tough and were forced to abandon the race at one of the various spectator and access points along the way. Twenty-five paddlers crossed the finish line.

Lowvelder Piers Cruickshanks, who knows the Elands like the back of his paddle, won the K1 race in 01:41:53. He also won the masters’ category.

Loveday Zondi claimed second place overall and first place in the veterans’ category in 01:43:23. Nick Warren was third overall and the second master in 01:46:34.

“I used local knowledge of the river in some of the shallow rapids to break away from Loveday and the others after around 8km. After that, it was a case of gritting my teeth and trying to maintain the gap,” said Cruickshanks.

“The madala was too strong today!” said Zondi of the 49-year-old race winner.

The winner of the women’s race, Sonja Bohnsack.

The winner of the women’s race, and also the grandmasters’ category, was Sonja Bohnsack in 02:08:53. She used her experience and skill in the river to her advantage, and showing many of the stronger men how it should be done, finished 12th overall.

Kirsty Pott was second and the winning sub-master in 02:28:02. The third woman home and sub-grandmaster winner was Sylvia Nel.

“The competitors, like in past years, gathered at the finish at the Lindenau weir under an enormous matumi tree to tell war stories and reflect on the challenging but beautiful river, which draws them back year after year,” said enthusiastic race organiser and Lowveld Canoe Club chairperson Erichia Pretorius.

Other K1 category winners were:
• Sub-grandmaster men: Rory Attridge
• Grandmaster men: Peter Geach

The only K2 entry was the team of John Greeff and Chad Andrews, who finished in 02:05:57.

People interested in taking up the sport can contact the Lowveld Canoe Club, based at Longmere Dam at email admin@lowveldcanoe.co.za.

Nick Warren finished third.

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