The 2023 Berg River Canoe Marathon will be significant for a number of reasons, and one will be that the stalwart of the race, Jannie Malherbe will be going for his fiftieth finish when the race reaches Velddrif on Saturday, 9 July.
Malherbe has the second most Berg finishes in history with 49 and is only second to the late Giel van Deventer. This year’s Berg will carry further significance in that it will be the first since Van Deventer tragically passed away in 2022.
The pair paddled many Bergs together and Malherbe knows that this year’s race will be an important tribute to Van Deventer and his influence on the iconic race through the Swartland.
“We will definitely miss Giel a lot this year,” a sombre Malherbe said. “He was like a Berg encyclopaedia and could tell you anything you needed to know about the race and the river.
“I would always follow him for the first few days because he knew where the obstacles were and knew the river better than anyone.
“He will not only be missed by me, but he will be missed by the whole paddling community this year.”
With a 50th Berg finisher’s medal at the finish line for the 84-year-old Malherbe, the numbers aren’t the motivation.
“50 is just a figure and it’s definitely not why I paddle. I paddle because it’s a way of life for me and the Berg is such an important part of my year.
“The race splits my year in half; and I take four days off in July where I can get away from everything; from work, my cell phone and just enjoy myself.
“I love training in Wilderness and at the moment I’m paddling about four hours a week which should be enough to get me to Velddrif!”
Having finished 49 Bergs in the past Malherbe has seen the river and the race in every different shape and form and he knows how to pick out the significant ones over the years.
“You always remember the difficult ones. The ones with the headwinds and the low rivers because those are the memorable ones.
“The races done on full rivers with four sunny days aren’t memorable, but they do remind you that every Berg is different.
“It’s a special race that has a special place in my heart and as long as I remain fit and healthy, I’ll still be paddling the Berg,” Malherbe explained.