Defending Berg River Canoe Marathon women’s champion Nikki Birkett is eager to return and defend her title at the Western Cape’s premier river race while using the event as a crucial base for the rest of the year’s racing.
The four day 240km epic from Paarl to Velddrif from 6 to 9 July is argued to be the one of the biggest tests in paddling around the world and for East London’s Birkett it plays a huge role in keeping her on top of her game.
Birkett’s win in 2021 was impressive as she finished with nearly sixteen minute’s worth of daylight between herself and second placed Jordan Peek. Going into this year’s race the rest of the women’s field should feel intimidated because the race is tailor-made for Birkett.
“I am so excited for this year’s Berg and I think it sets such a good foundation for the rest of your competitive paddling year,” Birkett said after her second place finish at the recent K1 women’s race at the SA Marathon Championships. “I’ve got quite a good grind so I tend to enjoy the longer distance.
“Whenever I do a Berg I know that it just ups my paddling level and when I was training with Lee McGregor he always wanted us to paddle the Berg because we would improve so much.”
With two Berg finishes under her belt going into 2022, Birkett’s passion for the Swartland odyssey has grown and she is looking forward to testing her limits over the four days to the West Coast.
“It’s a race that I love. The vibe and the gees are huge parts but there are also a lot of tactics that come into the racing and a lot skill when it comes to bobbing and weaving through the trees.
“I won’t have time to trip which may be a disadvantage but with it being my third Berg I think that helps a bit and I am fit and ready so it’s going to be good fun.
“A few of my friends are also doing it so we can catch up at the beautiful overnight stops and for me it’s one of the best races and I am really looking forward to it,” she added.