Underberg- While Owen Hemmingway aims to extend his record for the most finishes in the Drak Challenge canoe marathon, there are four stalwarts aiming to join the elite quartet of paddlers to have completed the two-day, 70km outing twenty times or more.
Two of the aspiring "Super Trouts" are East Griqualand locals in Greg Hitchins and Underberg farmer and rep Gavin Tarr, while Durban based Bart Fokkens can claim part-local status through his family home at Splashy Fen.
Durbanite Glenn Hilliar is the fourth paddler to start the 2018 event with 19 medals under his belt.
Tarr will be accompanying his son Ben on the race, and hinted he would "cruise down the river" to enjoy the occasion with his son before he has an operation on his troublesome shoulder.
Kokstad-based Hitchins is a hard-working member of the organising Canyon Kayak Club, and will be running the start on each day of the race before heading to the river to start in the Trout Batch, reserved for paddlers that have done ten or more Draks.
"There is no way I am going to miss it," enthused Fokkens, who will be entering as a team with Craig Springate for the race.
The new team format allows paddlers to enter as two singles for the first day, and then, if the conditions suit, they can change to a K2 for the second stage.
Hilliar is looking at doing the same thing, having entered in a K2 with his daughter.
"We will play it by ear," he said. "The team idea sounds great. If it is low, we will tap down in singles, and then relook at it on the second stage."
With Colin Simpkins and Dave Macleod snapping at his heels Pietermaritzburg paddler Hemmingway is eager to maintain his record for the most Drak finishes.
Work commitments abroad forced him to miss the race for the first time last year, blemishing his record as the only paddler to have finished every one of the 24 editions of the race.
"Picture the scene. I was flying back from Beijing and was meant to be back home by the Friday morning. Then, because of bad weather I ended up going to Singapore and then Dubai, and then being forced to overnight in Johannesburg on Saturday night, all the while knowing that the others were all paddling down this magic river in the Southern Drakensberg.
"I missed my first Drak through no fault of my own! I was cursing the Chinese weather!" he said.
Total Drak medals
23 - Owen Hemmingway
22 - Colin Simpkins, Dave Macleod
20 - Kirsten Oliver
19 - Bart Fokkens, Glen Hilliar, Greg Hitchins, Gavin Tarr
The Drak Challenge starts at Castleburn on Saturday, January 20 with a 24 kilometre stage to Sinister Pool, just above the Swartberg Road Bridge.
The second stage on Sunday, January 21 is 36 kilometres finishing at Early Mist Farm close to Coleford resort.
More information can be found at www.drak.co.za