With the Berg River full and more heavy rainfall expected, canoeists will rue missing out on the Berg River Canoe Marathon that was one of a swathe of events cancelled by the coronavirus lockdown regulations, but the virtual paddle set up in its place has snowballed in popularity.
The 59th edition was due to have started in Paarl on Wednesday morning, but after the cancellation of the race the organisers set up the Ultra Paddle virtual event that allows paddlers anywhere in the world to aim at covering the race distance and share in the event’s unique atmosphere.
Entries for the Ultra Paddle have already passed the previous record entry for the Berg Marathon, and dozens more are expected in the days before the start of the Ultra Paddle window which concludes at the end of July.
Frustrated by months of being kept off the water, paddlers have responded to the opportunity to try and cover the 240 kilometres in four days to earn a gold certificate, or as a alternative to paddle the distance before the end of the month to earn a silver certificate.
To encourage paddlers who are unfit due to lockdown inactivity or newcomers to the sport, a bronze certificate can be earned by covering fifty kilometres or more in the Ultra Paddle window.
“The Berg is all about paddling long distances and testing yourself,” said event organiser Brandon Macleod. “While there is no comparison to taking on the proper Berg marathon, with its trees, channels, extreme weather and unpredictable water, it is obvious from the response to the Ultra Paddle concept that there is huge affinity and respect for the Berg Marathon challenge.
When the window opens on Wednesday morning paddlers around the world will join South African paddlers on their local training waters to start eating away at the ultimate target mileage.
Groups of eager Berg fans will paddle on the Thames in London, in Asturias in Spain, on Lake Okanagon in Canada, training in California, on waterways in Ireland, Hong Kong and Australia and many other countries around the globe.
“More than anything this is an amazing show of solidarity,” said Macleod. “The world has been brought to its knees by the coronavirus, but this new challenge has brought people together in such a positive way.
“We are raising money for the ongoing Canoeing South Africa food relief programme in the process, which adds another level of significance to each entry received and each kilometre paddled,” he added.
On Wednesday morning eleven times Berg champion Hank McGregor will depart from Paarl on a solo voyage down the Berg River that will emulate the race. It is intended to keep the spirit of the Berg alive, and stimulate interest in the 60th anniversary edition of the race in 2021.