Local hopeful Greg Louw is aiming for the top step of the podium at the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon on 9 and 10 October to round off a hectic international competitive season, finally crown another Eastern Cape champion and, more than anything else, shed the irritating bridesmaid role that he has assumed in the K2 race in recent years.
Louw will be partnering his ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships K2 team mate Andy Birkett for his 2015 Hansa Fish challenge, having finished second in the doubles race in 2008 with his brother Ryan and again in 2013 with Len Jenkins.
“It would be nice to finally win it, having been on the second-to-top step of the podium more than I would like,” said Louw.
“Every year you start the race to win it but for the last few years Hank McGregor has managed to beat everyone else. Andy (Birkett) and I will be do everything we can to try and remedy that,” he said.
Having grown up in Cradock and his family heavily involved in the organisation of the Hansa Fish, Louw knows the race better than most but says the Hansa Fish is unique in that it offers very little advantage to locals that know the river well.
“There are hardly any places where local knowledge actually counts for anything,” says Louw, who caught the other paddlers in last year’s K1 chasing bunch by surprise when he gained twenty metres through a little-known sneak channel above Soutpansdrift Bridge.
“To win this race you have to fitter, faster and stronger than everyone else; it’s a simple as that,” says Louw.
“Everyone knows the river so well and it is wide and open, so there isn’t a lot that I can call homeground advantage,” he added.
He pointed out that he and his brother had been bearing the burden of local expectations, hoping for an Eastern Cape paddler to win the race overall first time first time since Daniel Conradie’s win in 1997 despite Plettenberg Bay raised Michele Eray bringing some respite winning the women’s title in 2012.
Louw has tasted considerable success with Andy Birkett in K2 racing, having won the 2014 Breede River Canoe Marathon title and racing onto the podium at the prestigious Sella Descent in Spain last year.
“We are such good mates off the water, which really helps when you are racing,” said Louw.
“Andy (Birkett) is such a great partner,” he added. “The one given is that Andy never ever gives up!”
“Even when he is really hurting you know he is never going to stop; he will die before he gives up in a race!”
Birkett and Louw will line up with the world’s best K2 combinations in the Hungarian town of Győr at the Marathon World Championships on 13 September, after which they travel to other paddling events in Europe before returning to South Africa two weeks before the Hansa Fish.
“I will be doing a couple of other races after Worlds, like a surfski event in Italy, but at least Andy and I will be able to get home with time to rest and recover unlike the paddlers going to the Surfski World Champs in Tahiti the weekend before the Fish!”
“It is going to such a hectic competitive season in September and October and we are really looking forward to bringing an end to that season at our favourite race of the year,” said Louw.