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Grant van der Walt to battle ‘big boys’ for Fish River crown

Former Junior and Under-23 Canoe Marathon world champion Grant van der Walt feels he has an advantage over several of the elite stars going into this year's Fish River Canoe Marathon, and he is eager to take full advantage of the opportunity.

The race takes place in and around Cradock, in the Eastern Cape, on October 10-11.

The young ace is quietly building a title-contesting campaign in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal and, while a podium would be satisfactory, Van der Walt is secretly hoping to make the top step of the podium his own this year.

“You never want to say you’re going to a race to win it because then you automatically make yourself a target and open yourself up to questions and abuse when you don’t achieve your goals. But let’s just say I’m not going to the Fish for a green salad!” said Van der Walt.

“I’ve been on the podium the past couple of years and I’d really like to be there again this year, if not win the title.

“I’ve won the Drak [in 2013], SA Surfski Champs in 2009 and multiple doubles titles, but the Fish has been the one I’ve been going to the longest and enjoyed the most, so to win it would be fantastic.”

Van der Walt is a four-time K2 Fish winner, having partnered Hank McGregor to victory in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013. However a K1 title at his favourite race would be an even greater achievement in his books.

“[In the] last K1 Fish, I was a bit unlucky on day one when I took a swim after the portage shortly after Keith’s [Flyover] and lost contact with Hank and Len [Jenkins].

“I managed to get back to them midway through day two, but I’d used up so much energy doing so that I just couldn’t stay with them towards the end.

“I’ve learnt from that, though. I now know to rather slow down just a little and lose a couple of seconds than rush things and make mistakes which can cost you two or three minutes.

“I’m older, wiser and hopefully not slower now than I was then. Plus I’ve got two more years of racing under my belt, so hopefully that bodes well for me at the Fish this year.”

Van der Walt, however, believes he has one added trick up his sleeve which may prove decisive in his 2014 title challenge.

“With the river level having been the same for the past however many years, you can’t say you know the river better than any of the other top guys.

“The rapids don’t change, the flat water is pretty much the same each year, the portages are the same.

“Most of the guys who are also likely to be at the front of the race at Fish this year are all over in the US for the Marathon Worlds, and that really is a big bonus for me.

“Hank, Andy [Birkett], Greg [Louw] as well guys like my brother [Brandon van der Walt] and Stu MacLaren are all going to have to try peak for an event as big as a World Champs is, go through all the travelling that’s related to that and then get up for another big event shortly afterwards.

“That’s really tough for anyone to do.”

The ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships and the ICF Canoe Marathon Masters World Cup take place in Oklahoma City, USA, from September 23 to 27 and Team South Africa goes there with high medal expectations.

The rip isn’t without consequences for those also eyeing Fish success, though, as Van der Walt knows all too well.

“This year the Worlds are in the States, so the guys going over have the added issue of major jetlag to deal with while trying to prepare for an event that is three times the distance of a marathon event just two weeks later.

“So not going to the Worlds definitely has worked out in my favour when it comes to this year’s Fish,” he added.


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