After stumbling on the Berg River Canoe Marathon by chance veteran paddler Ralph Teulings will aim to extend his staggering run of 37 consecutive Berg medals when the four day classic from Paarl to Velddrif gets under way on Wednesday 7 July.
The 60 year old Table View resident came close to throwing in the towel during lockdown in 2020, and has to thank a trio of canoeing friends for keeping him paddling and preserving his unbroken Berg streak – second only to the all-time record of 45 consecutive medals set by the late Edgar Boehm.
With the 2020 Berg cancelled as the country reeled under Covid-19 lockdown regulations, Teulings, like some many other athletes, struggled to stay motivated.
“Last year was crazy!” recalls Teulings. “Slipslops, beaches, booze and smoke bans, zombie runs at set times, it was unchartered water for us all.”
>With the Berg formally cancelled the race organisers staged a virtual alternative called the Ultra Paddle, which garnered support from all around then world. For those close to the Berg river there was an opportunity to do the virtual event on the actual race course.
“I wobbled down the Berg in four days thanks to Lisa Scott, Gordon Laing and Scott Taylor, who patiently waited and motivated me,” said Teulings.
“I really didn’t want to be there and was ready to hang up my paddles.” he added. “The only reason I will be back to finish the race hopefully again this year is due to them.”
Teulings started his first Berg while living in Johannesburg, having taken on some on the other major canoeing races on the national calendar.
“I had just done a Dusi as a bar-bet and quite enjoyed being on a river,” he recalls. “While I was doing a race on the Vaal river I met Martin Freiman who asked if I was doing the Berg. ”What’s that?” I replied. He filled me in on the race whilst kindly sharing his ice cream tub of snacks. I then found myself on the 1983 Berg start line in Paarl!”
That first Berg is indelibly etched in Teuling’s memory.
“I was paddling a brand new Sella for the first time, which was a completely different boat to what I was used to – rookie error!
“On the first and second stages I took about thirteen swims on each day. The second day was windy and raining which made your smokes wet – it was miserable!”
“Day Three and Four where beautiful sunny days and I didn’t have any more swims. It was great getting to the bridge in Velddrif with all the club flags. I will never forget that, sadly this is not done anymore,” said Teulings.
Teulings was back in 1984 and after moving to Cape Town in 1985 he has been back to do the Berg every year since then.
“I most certainly never intended to do Bergs in this manner! It’s been kinda like an annual trip to the health hydro – lots of fresh air and exercise, you eat well and enjoy good banter with mates,” he said.
While he lines up for his 38th consecutive Berg medal, he is adamant that the race record for consecutive Berg finishes will always remain with Edgar Boehm, who passed at in November 2020.
“I doubt that his record will ever be broken, he owns that one,” said Teulings. “It is absolutely amazing the amount of effort he has put in, given that he was not always in Cape Town but yet made the effort to be at the start line.
“He truly was passionate about this race and most certainly had a knack for navigating his way downriver. On the river he was always chipper. That was most definitely his happy place.”
As he starts from his place in the Legends batch, Teulings will look forward to another chapter in his long history with the Berg.
“I am indebted to many for motivation and kind slips over the years,” he said. “There have been kombis, overloaded bakkies, trailers, spit braais, wild nights and long fireplace deep conversations. Each and every year there is a new face and old mate to chat to and reminisce with. Officials, seconds and fellow paddlers are truly a unique breed, it’s not only about the paddling.
“I’m going to miss the barns this year as we deal with the lockdown rules, but the occupants of said barns are not going to miss me sleeping well!” he added.