Giel van Deventer. Picture: SUPPLIED
Giel van Deventer. Picture: SUPPLIED

Paarl — Evergreen Giel van Deventer will be lining up for his 48th Berg River Canoe Marathon when the four-day race gets under way in Paarl on July 12, extending his own record for the most finishes in the iconic odyssey to the West Coast.

"When I was younger, I never had a specific goal in terms of number of Bergs to complete," says the grandmaster paddler.

"If asked when are you going to stop, my normal answer was as long as I enjoy the Berg, I will be back next year. The year I completed my 46th Berg, we had a terrible windy and cold third day. It took me 8½ hours. I was finished. My wife gave me one look and said she thought it time for me to quit.

"I said I will give it a thought, which I did. My decision was I will try to get to at least 50 Bergs and thereafter, I will consider stopping if I feel that the old body is taking too much punishment. But 50 Bergs will allow me to rest in peace!"

The 67-year-old, who farms outside Paarl, set an example to the paddling community by lodging the third entry for the 2017 race, despite the reluctance by many to commit to the tough race given the drought.

The allure of the race is simple for Van Deventer. It is widely regarded as the toughest race of its kind in the world. "If you evaluate the Berg as a good river for canoeing, it will surely not be rated as one of the best rivers from a fun viewpoint. There are not many rapids, the water in July is icy cold. But as a race, it has something special: it always was and still is a real challenge. And I love challenges," he says.

He has scoffed at paddlers being slow to enter the race, fearing the water level will be extremely low.

He says the Cape winter always bails the race out of trouble. "I have rainfall and river-flow records for the last 60 years. There was not a single year when there was not enough water. A few years ago, we struck a very low level, but even at two cumec flow you can still paddle without portaging. My river-flow statistics give me 100% trust there will be enough water for a race."

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