Cape Town - As
the summer rains replenish water stocks throughout the Southern
Drakensberg, paddlers from all over the country will be making the
journey to the Underberg to tackle what is expected to be one of the best Drak Challenges in a number of years when the race gets underway on
The small town of Underberg has been a
hive of activity throughout the festive period with people enjoying the
full and clean water that the uMzimkulu River, after two lean years as
the drought strangled the usual summer rainfalls.
Not only will there be some of the best river paddlers in the world
there but also many paddlers who have rediscovered their love for the
With the race entry comfortably exceeding the previous year it is
easy to see that people enjoy the laid back, country atmosphere that the
event provides and with the favourable rains and exciting water level,
the residents of the greater Underberg and Himeville region are ready to
turn on their traditional warm hospitality for everyone attending the
event this weekend.
At the narrow end of the field there are a number of paddlers
champing at the bit to break the three-year streak that Andy Birkett has
The Euro Steel star has been imperious at the Drak Challenge and it
is going to be another tall ask if anyone is to dethrone the 25-year-old
The one man among the top contenders who has also succeeded on a
plethora of occasions at the Drak Challenge is the ever-green Hank
Euro Steel/Kayak Centre’s McGregor, who has won the Drak Challenge
three times himself from 2010 to 2012, didn’t finish the 2016 edition of
the race due to illness and with conditions predicted to be fuller than
the previous three McGregor will definitely be a force to be reckoned
There will be a number of under-the-radar contenders with the likes
of Owen Gandar, who finished third in 2016, Euro Steel’s Andrew Houston
as well as 2013 champion Grant van der Walt on the start list.
The women’s race could shape up to be one of the most exciting yet as
Euro Steel’s Abby Solms attempts to become the most
decorated Drak Challenge paddler - she is aiming for her seventh win at
the two-day event.
Hunting her down will be a relative newbie to KZN river marathon
paddling in the form of Euro Steel’s Bridgitte Hartley.
The 2012 Olympic
sprint bronze medallist has shown that the transition from flat water
to river paddling has not been too difficult and if she can stay dry she
will be in with a shout.
The women’s field will be a strong one; however it does not seem that
there will be any challenge to Solms and Hartley at the front of the
race with Jenna Ward, having recently returned from a holiday in
South-East Asia, and young Kyeta Purchase being the most likely to
compete for that third spot on the podium.
The race will also see a number of milestones reached as a number of
paddlers approach their 19th Drak Challenge however the accolades must
go to Kirsten Oliver who is lining up her 20th assault on the Drak