As the early bird entries for the Berg River Canoe Marathon from 5 to 8 July started to accumulate at race HQ, Daantjie Malan’s entry was one of the first received as the 11-time finisher rekindles his relationship with fellow paddlers for the annual journey from Paarl to the West Coast.
Malan is a regular in the Berg line-up and he will be aiming for his twelfth Berg medal – although the 63-year-old attorney could make case for claiming he has 13 finishes already.
“I also did two Bergs during the Covid year, but those don’t count!” he chuckles.
The Masters age-group paddler says it is the bond and banter with fellow paddlers that brings him back year-after-year.
The Strand resident did his first Berg in 2002. “At that time my friends had done many Bergs and the way they spoke, it was the normal thing to do,” says Malan.
“Little did I know what was to come. My bum got very sore and I could hardly sit for many weeks afterwards.
“I was competitive, I would chase past the paddlers and then swim at the next rapid or tree block, and then all of them would pass me with a grin on their face,” he recalls.
While Malan has become a far more skilled river paddler in the technical swirling water and tree blocks of the Berg, he never forgets the drama of his eighth Berg when he battled illness as well as the challenges of the river and the Western Cape winter.
“I got the Bridgetown bug,” he recalls, describing the stomach ailment that can strike paddlers after the second stage of the race. “As I started the third day, Edgar Boehm, Giel van Deventer, Mossie Serdyn and all the slower paddlers dropped me behind.
“I tried everything, but there was no power. After Moravia I could hardly go on. Eventually I put the finger down my throat, and the poison came out,” he says “Things got better from there.”
As an avid fan of the tough four-day race, Malan encourages every paddler to add a Berg finish to their paddling CV, as it also teaches many life lessons along the way.
“Once you have finished a Berg you can say that you have done one of the toughest races in the world,” he says. “If you have done the Berg, you can overcome the biggest challenges of life.”