As the countdown continues to the 2018 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon on 5 and 6 October in the Eastern Cape town of Cradock, the massive field will be largely made up of recreational paddlers, for whom the 82 kilometres of paddling is as much about the social atmosphere as it about the challenges of completing the marathon.
For the social paddlers, and for the droves of varsity students who make this event an annual pilgrimage, the unique ‘Pimp My Ride’ competition is an opportunity to get involved in the social fun of the event, and stand a chance of winning the coveted prize of the combined bodyweight of the winners in beer.
Predictably enough a popular hit with the students, the competition requires aspirants entrants to decorate their kayaks, and dress up in fancy dress to reflect a different theme every year.
This year the organisers have announced a theme of “Cowboys and Indians”, which is sure to see stetsons replacing traditional paddling caps as the vogue headgear of choice on the river.
Complicating the issue for the serious challengers is the issue that the competition is judged by a handpicked group of locals who observe both days of the race, up to and including efforts at Cradock weir in the final twenty minutes of the race.
No matter how elaborate the decorations to the kayaks and the individual fancy dress outfits are, they need to survive the rigours of the two days on the river to give themselves a chances of winning the approval of the stealthy judges.
Two years ago, the winning crew of Rhodes students launched an controversial appeal claiming that the combined weights of each paddler, plus their kayak and all their waterlogged equipment, was the amount of beer that they should win.
In a case that looked set to challenge the country’s top legal minds, the winners eventually agreed that the volume of beer they had won would be limited to their combined bodyweight only.
The theme pervades all aspects of the popular weekend, running like a common thread through the road trips to and from Cradock, the racing itself, and the well-supported parties on the Friday and Saturday evenings.