With the 2020 Berg River Canoe Marathon cancelled along with other sporting events due to the COVID-19 lockdown regulations, the race organisers have arranged a ground-breaking virtual race called the ”Ultra Paddle” that will allow canoeists around the world to be part of a show of solidarity, and share in the enthusiasm for the 59 year old classic event while raising money to support Canoeing South Africa’s food relief programme.
The four day, 240km race from Paarl to the Cape West Coast town of Velddrif, which was to have started on 8 July, always attracts a core of paddlers keen to test themselves against the river, weather and sheer distance of the race that has made it one of the toughest of it’s kind in the world.
The virtual race aims to make the multi-day epic accessible to a far wider audience than normal, by asking paddlers to cover the 240km before the end of July, allowing athletes to take on the challenge in more manageable distances.
“One of the realities of this lockdown is that the average paddler is far less fit than he or she would be at this time of the year, and it would be irresponsible to ask them to cover distances like the 75km in a day as they do on the third stage of the Berg,” said race organiser Brandon Macleod.
“As an event, and as a sport overall, we will be fully compliant with all the lockdown regulations, and while we know that the paddling community is desperate to get back on the water, we have to be realistic,” he added.
“The Berg has always been about Ultra Paddling – taking on long stages for four successive days – and we want to keep that heritage alive during this abnormal year, particularly as we build to the 60th anniversary edition of the race next year.
“This will give paddlers a reason to grind out multiple kilometres for base training, and pounces on the eagerness of paddlers and sporting enthusiasts to finally be a part of something again,” he explained.
Macleod said that participants will pay a R150 (or $10, €10 or £10) participation fee, for which they will get their Ultra Paddle race number, and on competition day a certificate from the Berg Marathon with a personal coupon entitling the paddlers to special benefits at the 60th anniversary edition of the Berg in 2021.
To put the event within reach of less fit paddlers and novices the Ultra Paddle will allow participants to cover a total distance of 50 kilometres before 31 July to receive their bronze certificate.
Participants who cover a total of 240km before the end of the month will receive silver certificates, and the serious paddlers who cover the full distance in four sessions will get awarded the gold certificates.
“The Comrades Marathon “Race the Comrades Legends” event showed that there is a great passion to get involved in these iconic South African events by opening them up to a broader audience,” said Macleod.
Money from the participation fee will go towards Canoeing South Africa’s ongoing relief programme that is delivering food parcels to canoe club members badly affected by the rolling lockdown.
“Clubs around the country have received fantastic support from the federation through the provision of food parcels for members that have been badly affected by the lockdown. By July their need will be great, and the injection of funds from the paddlers will be very welcome.
“For frustrated paddlers the Ultra Paddle is a chance to get back on the water and work towards a goal, while at the same time contributing to Canoeing South Africa’s goal of helping our members who really need it,”
Entries for the Ultra Paddle will open on the Berg Marathon website next week.