As hundreds of paddlers complete their final pack before they descend upon the small Karoo town of Cradock, there will be added incentive for a small portion of the field eyeing a variety of milestones at the two-day adrenalin-filled encounter starting at Grassridge Dam and ending at the Cradock Sports Fields on 7 and 8 October.
The popular Eastern Cape event will see no fewer than 36 paddlers looking to complete their tenth Hansa Fish and with that, adding their names to the prestigious list of Coelacanths who have reached that ten-race milestone.
Having been absent at the last two Hansa Fish’s, stalwart paddler Jacques Theron returns in 2016 looking to complete his twentieth edition of the race and with it write himself, along with a handful of others also in the market for a twentieth finish, into the event’s history books.
Of the paddlers that are sitting on 19 finishes, nine will be at the 2016 edition of the race with the likes of K3 record holder Nic Burden amongst those searching for another medal that will take him into the exclusive club of Fish Eagle paddlers.
“I remember my first one really clearly!” Burden reminisces. “It was 1995, I was twelve years old and did it with my dad Colin. It was freezing cold, the wind was howling and I just wanted my mum!”
“It was still an unbelievable experience and although it was tough, it clearly didn’t stop me from going back!”
The family atmosphere around the race and the weekend in the Karoo is a large attraction for many who often use the race as a way of getting away for a while, something Burden believes makes the Hansa Fish a special event.
“The race is in quite a central location if you are coming from Joburg, Durban or Cape Town and with so many people travelling to get to the race, they will often use it as an excuse for a bit of a holiday, which is how I have seen the race.
“It’s also a great trip there and back and we have enjoyed it for a number of years.
“The feeling of getting into Cradock and it is abuzz with paddlers, the locals all buying into the race and the events that surround the Fish just makes it that much more special for us and is something that always sticks with me,” adds Burden.
Over the decades Burden has built up a list of impressive memories however two stand out clearer than any others, both for good reason.
“My greatest Fish memory would definitely be paddling to K3 victory with my brother and dad in 2013. It’s a great memory not only because we won, but because I was able to paddle with my dad and brother.
“The other memory that stands out is paddling to a third place overall with Doug Bird during my more competitive days,” a reminiscent Burden comments.
Despite twenty Hansa Fish medals on the horizon, Burden has no intentions of making this one his last.
“It’s a race that is in my agenda every year because it’s always such a great weekend with awesome water and a great river.
“I am definitely not slowing down and want to do as many Fish as I can!” Burden explained.
In relation to the entire list of paddlers that have completed at least one Hansa Fish, the amount of paddlers that have completed twenty or more is small with only 93 paddlers having qualified into the Coelacanth ranks or beyond.
The 30-race club, commonly known as the Kingfishers, inducted one new member in 2015 but they will have to wait until 2017 to receive new inductees as there are a number of paddlers currently sitting on 28 Hansa Fish finishes.