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Organisers of the Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon in the Northern Cape predicted a fierce battle for top honours with the top three male paddlers only seconds apart at the start of the 26km final stage.  The three day stage race started in Upington in the Northern Cape and finished at Khamkirri near Augrabies covering 99km on the majestic Orange River.

In a split-second sprint to the finish, Andy Birkett from Natal Canoe Club crossed the line first, but Capetonian Jasper Mocke’s efforts were just enough to secure him the top spot on the podium with a total finishing time of 6 hours 58 minutes 30:16seconds.  Birkett finished in a total time of 6 hours 58 minutes 31:54 seconds with Ivan Kruger (Century Canoe Club) taking the final podium place.  Dawid Mocke was fourth with last year’s winner Lance King in fifth position.

 “There was an incredible vibe on the river.  The fact that this is a new race makes it extremely exciting and it will remain so for the next three to four years due to its unpredictability and paddlers have different options to explore during each stage.  There is an absolutely amazing spirit amongst the paddlers as we were camping together.  I really enjoyed the final stage as the river was narrower, fuller and faster and you had to paddle harder,” said 27-year old Jasper Mocke of Peninsula Canoe Club.

“This is a completely new destination and because the water levels fluctuate so much, it will definitely change from year to year.  And of course, the Orange is the largest river in South Africa, so it is an awesome privilege to paddle it,” mentioned Mocke.

22-year old Birkett, who was a late entry and came fresh off his win in The Unlimited Dusi earlier this month, was a competitive contender from the start.  “The final stage was my favourite as the narrower river made for more aggressive racing.  It was exciting and challenging.  The leading batch of about eight paddlers stayed together from the start and only split at the Marchand weir portage.  Jasper, Dawid and I decided to shoot the weir and ended up taking a left through the reeds.  We had no clue where we were and were quite surprised when we rejoined the race and figured out that we were leading the pack.

According to 20-year old Ivan Kruger,  the race has a character of its own.  “I quite liked the second stage even though I am not that strong on portages, but that meant that I could paddle on my own for a while.  This gave me time to find my own rhythm and I managed to catch up.  Today was great and Whiskey rapid was wicked.  Although I took on water and lost a bit of time, I’m very happy to finish on the podium,” explained Kruger.

All the paddlers were awed by the river and are determined to return next year.  “It really fits in well with the rest of the racing calendar as it is at the beginning of the season and adds great depth to your training schedule as you can add some kilometres on your arms,” said Kruger.

In the women’s category Michele Eray continued her domination from the first stage for a convincing victory.  She finally finished 16th overall and over twenty minutes ahead of second placed Nikki Mocke.  Kirsten Penderis of Maties Canoe Club in Stellenbosch finished third in the ladies’ race.

The Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon was staged in conjunction with the Northern Cape Tourism Authority and Orange River Cellars to showcase the Green Kalahari region and the Northern Cape province as a unique and diverse tourism destination.

For race results and visuals, join Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon on Facebook or @kalaharigawie on Twitter.