One of the world’s most daunting canoe marathon’s wouldn’t usually be described as ‘unbelievably relaxing’, however that’s the attitude of 83 year-old Jannie Malherbe as he sets out to finish his 49th Berg River Canoe Marathon from 6-9 July.
Only Giel van Deventer, who completed his 50th Berg last year, has done this tough four day race more often than Malherbe.
From the first ever edition of the Berg River Canoe Marathon in 1962, Malherbe has seen it all and despite his racing days being long behind him, being able to paddle the Berg every year is a blessing for him.
“If I’m healthy I will paddle the Berg,” the man from Wilderness said. “It is a landmark in the year for me and it gives me the chance to get away and switch my phone off and enjoy myself for four days.
“I find it unbelievably relaxing and there is no stress for me,” the veteran mentioned about the 250km race from Paarl to Velddrif on the West Coast.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic Malherbe will have to wait until 2023 to claim that illustrious 50th Berg finisher’s medal but when reflecting on the past he speaks about how much things have changed.
“The Berg River now is a piece of cake compared to what it was like in 1962 and unless you knew the river there was no chance you were going to win the race.
“You can’t compare the river at all but I think that if it was anything like it was now I wouldn’t be paddling so it’s probably a good thing it’s changed!”
Malherbe’s preparation in Wilderness sees him train on flat water which makes life tricky for him when he returns to the flowing water of the Berg River.
“Where I train the water is like a mirror so dealing with flowing water and eddies takes me a bit of getting used to.
“I’m a little uncomfortable for the first few hours then everything is fine and I can’t even remember when last I swam on the Berg!
“I’ve decided that I also need to be in a more stable boat because I am not fast anymore,” the octogenarian added.
The rules of racing in the legends group are simple.
“We do have a lot of fun on the river and everyone goes at the same pace and we support each other throughout.
“If someone stops we all stop and wait because we aren’t there to race, we’re there to get to the end of each day.”