Having romped to an impressive K2 title in 2015, Andy Birkett and Greg Louw will return to Cradock for the 2017 Fish River Canoe Marathon eyeing another shot at taking home the title from 6-7 October.
The laid back pair of KwaZulu-Natal’s Birkett and Cradock’s own Louw formed a strong partnership during the 2015 season that saw them race the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships together and then race at the Fish where they beat the strong K2 duo of Hank McGregor and Jasper Mocké for the title.
Birkett has been in fine form this year winning the N3TC Drak Challenge in January, the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon in February and then grabbing a silver and a bronze at the recent World Marathon Championships in his home town of Pietermaritzburg.
For Merrell/Knysna Racing’s Louw, who isn’t a full-time professional, getting in the training can be difficult however he knows that stretch of river so well that he just makes sure that he is fit enough to compete.
“I am a financial planner these days so I definitely don’t have as much time to train as I used to but I try and get in at least one paddle a day,” he said.
“Although I don’t paddle as much as I would like I still get in some good weekend training sessions which sort of makes up for the lost time.
“Andy (Birkett) is probably one of the fittest people that I know so there is never a doubt that he is going to be in tip-top shape when we get on the water.”
The 2015 champions have a strong bond as a combination and their friendship off the water is something that enhances their relationship on the water.
“We have done so much paddling together that we don’t really need to do too much preparation.
“It would obviously be better if we could train in the build-up but we live so far away from each other that we will just have to make sure the boat is set up correctly and that not too much has changed in two years!” Louw added.
Having hosted the recent ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships, South Africa has become the preferred post-Worlds holiday destination for a number of the international paddlers, meaning the international entry might be slightly higher.
Louw has seen a number of internationals at the Fish in the past but he believes that this year might be a bit different.
“The international guys in the past have come short quite badly on the Fish due to the big water.
“There are a number of international guys entered for this year’s race but the difference is that a number of them have entered with experienced South African paddlers.
“They always posed a threat but I think this year they are going to be a real threat to us!
“With these strong pairs we can normally narrow it down to about ten boats that can dominate the race,” a circumspect Louw mentioned.
Despite the fast nature of the race and the pressure on maintaining concentration throughout, Louw does see the importance of making sure you don’t empty the tank too early on both days.
“The race at the front is always so quick and close so you have to make sure that you don’t make any mistakes because one small mistake can cost you the race.
“With that said, it is equally important that you make sure you conserve yourself because those last ten kilometres can really dish out the hurt if you have gone too hard, too early!” he added.