Wednesday 26 December 2018

Three days on the Orange River

It feels like an age since I had a real break; and nothing beats three days on the Orange River. Almost better than the cool water of the river, the stunning scenery and excitement of rapids, was that I has no mobile reception. This meant no email, no sms, no whatsapp, no Messenger, no calls. Bliss!

Three days on the Orange River have been superb. Goliath herons and fish eagles flying above, kudu and springbok on the river banks, and two nights spent under a nearly full moon that painted the landscape in shades of silver.

The paddling exceeded expectations with good flow, interesting sections and some rapids to spice things up.

I have paddled this section once before; in October four years ago not long after I started seeing Celliers (a test for our fledgling relationship). It was my first time getting to know his children and also my first time paddling a whitewater sit-on-top kayak. My Vagabond Marimba is a far better kayak for this trip.

Our Vagabond kayaks came into their own, carrying us and all of our gear for this trip. I had the fortune of paddling our newest kayak, the Marimba. This is the longest, narrowest and fastest of our kayaks and I've been eagerly waiting for it. I recently sold my Epic v7, which I really loved. The only downside was that the v7 didn't have any space for Rusty! This green Marimba is my personal kayak and will be making its way to my rack at our Likkewaan Canoe Club. I just need to put a foam mat in the rear tankwell for Rusty and then it will be ready for us to go paddling.

The group for our trip included me, Celliers and his children. We also had our two Vagabond Kayaks business partners and their families along (including some siblings and their families). All in all about 15 adults and 10 children (from 4 to 14). Here are some photos from our trip.

Packing my green Marimba. I like to separate my clothing, gear and daily snack bags into smaller (5l) drybags. I find that it makes it easier to keep track of things and is also easier to pack. This is what had to go into my Marimba (plus a few communal items like a small gas cylinder, water bottles and the like). I could have packed double and still had space to spare.
The packing space inside the two main hatches really is remarkable.

The Marimba has a bucket-like Day Hatch in front of the seat for easy-access items. My camera went into the front pocket of my PFD. In the hatch, I put shades, glasses, lipbalm and binoculars.

The Marimba has three hatches; two that go into the hull and one day hatch in front of the seat. Of course, hatches can leak, which is why everything should be in drybags. I was super impressed with the hatches on the Marimba. Three days of opening and closing and NOT ONE DROP OF WATER inside. I did always make sure to tighten the hatch covers properly. Celliers had the same; not one drop either. I need to use a vacuum cleaner to suck up the fine sand from the bottom of drybags and sandals that got into the hull during packing. The sand is bone dry.

At the Hopetown bridge - waiting for the drivers to get back after dropping the cars at the take-out. Sights like this make all the mega hours of the past 18 months, from beginning to create Vagabond Kayaks to launching this company and our first phenomenal designs five months ago.

The very first bubblies after we put in under the Hopetown bridge. The novices were a bit nervy but going through this was smooth. By day 3 they were charging through waves to get the most out of them.

Me and my marvelous Marimba.

The rocks of the Orange River are spectacular. The shapes and patterns of these black rocks change as you go along. Thunder Alley, which we went through on Day 2, is striking.

We had two rafts along with us for the families with small children.

Day 1 lunch stop.

This was a really nice rapid. Sounded worse than it was. Turned out to be lovely wave trains.

The oldest in our group is 55 and the youngest is 4. Ruben (in the foreground) and Kyla paddled Tarkas. Bigger than the children's Kwando, the Tarka is manageable for bigger children and it has the packing space for overnight trips like this. They took all of their own clothing, tent (split between them), daily snackpacks, sleeping bags and mattresses... Totally independent. Just perfect.

Hubbly Bubbly rapid has a hole in the middle and a good line on far river left - if you can catch it. With the water at a good level, we were able to paddle and bump most of the kayaks down a tiny channel near the right bank (not in the picture). Of course, a couple of our team did run it, making it look really easy.
Hell's Gate rapid, the entrance to Thunder Alley. Water at a good level but not for novices and children. Experienced paddlers took turns paddling all of the kayaks down.
We walked the kayaks through on the far river right and got in at the eddy just visible above the left shoulder of the guy. Then a bunch of us paddled all the kayaks downstream to the bigger eddy where everyone could then get on to their boats again. I paddled two Tarkas down. I had a clean run with the first but swam with the second when I got tipped by a big, sneaky boil. I managed to swim the kayak into the eddy. For the rafts, this was child's play.

Picnic spot on Day 2. There is no shade for a long time once you're through and out of Thunder Alley.
We started Day 3 by walking a bit upstream from our overnight camp for a leisurely float down the river.
Floating in the cool water of the Orange River is divine. From early morning it cooks. Outside, temperatures were upper 30s, even up to 40 C!

Last day on the river. 
We did about 20km on Day one and unintentionally did around 25km on Day 2. We'd planned on 15km for Day 2 but had to do more to find overnight stop with shade. Our last day was very short - only a few kilometres - but very pleasant nonetheless. Back in Hopetown we enjoyed a swim in the pool G&Ts and I has a leisurely afternoon in my hammock - reading and napping.

Kayaks like ours make a trip like this a breeze. Without the rafts we could have moved a lot faster and next time we'll do a no-raft trip, going all the way to Douglas (an extra 30-odd kilometres).

Can't wait!

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Off to the Orange River

It has been over a month since my last post - a clear indication of how my year has been.

This year has beaten me black-and-blue but I'm still breathing and there has been progress but it has been tough. I've done little but work-work-work and fortunately I have had my Rusty dog to get me out and to keep me sane.

Swimming in the quarry with Rusty. 
I'm off for a few days to the Orange River for a three day trip. This is a much needed escape - sans internet, emails and phone reception. I am very excited about paddling our newest kayak, the Marimba. This. Is going to be my personal kayak for paddling for fitness and fun with Rusty. It was moulded on Monday.

The green one is mine. 
My gear is all pre-packed in drybags and I look forward to packing it into my kayak tomorrow morning.

I've got my camera so I'll take photos. I plan to paddle, rest and sleep a lot (I have a substantial deficit to recover from).

I look forward to share my adventure with you next week. Until then...

Monday 12 November 2018

First local river trip of the season

I'm a bit behind in my posts...

Last weekend, I enjoyed a trip down our local stretch of the Vaal River. The water level has been low and on that Sunday morning it was even lower than the normal low.

In the past, I had paddled the fibreglass prototype of our Vagabond Kayaks Usutu whitewater creekboat on a river in KZN (earlier this year) and then a plastic pre-production Usutu on the whitewater park in Oklahoma.

For this trip, I had another pre-production Usutu -  a blue one. The Usutu is named after the river in Swaziland, which we paddled a number of times for the old Swazi Xtreme adventure race (and the Swazi Whitewater Festival). It was my first time taking the Usutu down our regular section of the Vaal.

That's me on the blue Usutu, Cindy on my pink Do It Now and Karen in her lime Soul sit-in. Photo by Graeme Addison. 
When the water level is low, all it really means is that the river is really rocky. There are parts where you can't squeeze a boat through, rapids are far smaller, water moves more slowly and even on flat water you can connect with a rock just below the surface.

I actually really enjoy the river when it is rocky because the scenery seems to improve with more features from the rocks along the banks and in the river itself. I also most enjoy looking for - and successfully negotiating - sneaky little gaps between rocks. As a bonus we saw two malachite kingfishers.

I paddled the Do It Now whitewater sit-on-top last summer (and my sit-in creekboat only later in the season). The Do It Now is a super kayak but the Usutu beats it in speed, better tracking, agility and responsiveness. Despite it being a sizeable craft, the Usutu doesn't feel big when you're on it. Its nose is a bit longer and pointier than that of the Do It Now, to punch through waves with ease. I found it easier to control for ferrying and catching eddies. I look forward to challenging my skills on more water later in the season ("rain, rain come again").

Thursday 8 November 2018

The first leg of AR World Champs in Reunion is disappointing in design

I really haven't followed many of the Adventure Racing World Series or AR World Championship events every closely for some time. I take a peek at online tracking here and there, read a post or two and wait for the final results. I see this post now of the distance and discipline breakdown for AR World Champs in Reunion and I'm quite disappointed.

The first leg is trekking and it is 106km in distance with a ton of elevation gain and loss. Fastest team estimated to take 38h30. I was at Raid World Champs in the Alps back in the day - I've seen how such massive climbs nailed even the most experienced participants. They weren't smiling. A leg like this is an attrition leg.

No, I'm not getting soft.

Participants travel from all over the world. Some have been doing expedition events like this for over 20 years. Others have less experience (but all of the heart to give it a try). It is a substantial financial investment to get to the start.

They come for the physical challenge of the course as much as the opportunity for exploration and discovery of the location. Add to this the dynamics of adventure racing, dozens of variables and you have all of the elements of this sport that captured my heart 20 years ago and changed the course of my life.

And then I see a course that starts like this (leg 1 and leg 2) and I'm disappointed. Course designing is as much an art as a science. When planning a course you are tasked with creating something that tantalises, stimulates and challenges by using what the terrain and environment offers.

If there is one thing that hasn't changed in the past 20 years that I've been involved in AR (participating, writing, following), it is that any distance on foot is certain to slay many a participant, either knocking them out of the race completely or making the rest of their race less pleasant. And then you throw them in water for a 45km pack rafting leg. Apparently a lot of this will be on foot, not in water. What a blister and soft sole skin fest this will be! Some participants may not even get a chance to ride their bikes!

While these two legs won't too terribly affect the teams going for the win (they have the experience to suck it up - it won't be pleasant though), I feel sad for the other teams who are there for the experience and to finish. They're going to spend at least 2 days (48hrs) on one discipline - trekking - from the start. It is my favourite discipline but this holds little appeal.

Of course, the old Raid Gauloises events had a mega trekking component but, as esteemed adventure racer and course designer Ian Adamson says, they would have up to 400km of "brutal foot travel", split into 3-4 legs over a total course distance of 1,000km. This course distance total in Reunion is around 425km.

A course is not made challenging by just having ultra-long sections of a single discipline. A well-planned course with strategy, clever distance, cunning navigation and good use of terrain over a 400-600km course will separate the best from the rest regardless. Just making something very long is, to me, lazy. I think what disappoints me the most is not as much that the leg is 106km with lots of climb, but that it is the first leg.

Personally, I like to see some punchy legs early on where there is a lot of excitement and interaction with teams and disciplines. Let them warm up and enjoy the race and excitement of being there for a bit. Then throw in some distance with great navigation elements (but not stupid single-discipline slog distance in an AR, which is a multidiscipline sport) and strategy and cunning and then wake them up again with some punchy elements.

(On the bright side, the scenery of Reunion Island should be spectacular)

Considering the duty and responsibility of a course designer reminded me of Andy de Klerk's FEAT talk in 2011 about opening climbing routes "with style". This seven-minute FEAT talk is well worth watching.


We have 5 (or 6) South African teams competing.

Keep an eye on posts from Rob Howard on as the event unfolds.

From ARWS...

How to watch the action at the AR World Championship 2018
  1. Live tracking at: will keep you up to date with exactly where teams are during the race.  The site also has extensive photos, videos, leaderboard and reports. Become a #dotwatcher !!!!
  2. Live Streaming Tune in on for the start at 6am Reunion Time (GMT+4) on 8th November and the winners around the 12th November (disclaimer! it is a remote island in the Indian ocean and internet access could be challenging!)  Other live streaming throughout the race so keep checking back.
  3. Facebook coverage through and Lend your support and encourage teams on this epic journey.
  4. Instagram follow us on instagram and Let us know if you love the grit and determination displayed by these world class athletes.
  5. News Stories AR World series news stories are released on  and A Great way to catch up on the overall progress of the race.
  6. Hashtags search for interesting news and stories with the following hashtags #arwc2018 and #arworlderies

Monday 29 October 2018

Ultimate Frisbee fun in Parys

We've got a new fun activity in Parys: Ultimate Frisbee.

I'd heard of the game but I had never played until two Fridays ago. What fun! It is an absolute blast.

Absolute Frisbee is a bit like netball. When you have the frisbee, you're not allowed to run with it. You have to stop in your tracks, look for a teammate and try to make a successful pass. If my team throws the frisbee and it lands on the ground (is not caught), it goes to the other team to pick it up. If one of the other team catches it, well, it's theirs to throw. If your teammate catches it, it stays yours.

As a result, the game is fast and dynamic, with lots of sprints and direction changes as the frisbee changes hands constantly. It is not easy to catch, especially when the wind blows the frisbee off course and hasty tosses see the frisbee flying off track. Many catch attempts are a good demonstration of butter fingers.

We get together on the informal soccer field near the library and fire station at 17h00 on Friday evenings and assemble teams from whoever is around. Teams are assigned according to tee-shirt colour. We had our second game this past Friday and were somewhat more together in terms of how the game works.

Here are some photos from last Friday's game (I'm in blue). If you're in the 'hood, pull in on Friday.

Thanks and recognition to Taryn and Hugh for getting this going.

Catching a time trial by chance

Long story short is that my mom went adventuring to Morocco to climb up Mt Toubkal, a 4,200m summit in the Atlas Mountains. A non-technical climb, this was perfect for my mom. Unfortunately she took a fall on a scree slope on their first afternoon, fractured her ankle and had to sit out the rest of the climb. We got her back on a flight a day early. I fetched her from the airport on Thursday last week and we spent the night with my uncle to go to her Friday morning orthopaedic surgeon appointment.

On Thursday evening I took Rusty for a run in the gated suburb near my uncle's place. I've run there often, when ever I stay over. We must have been about 1km in when I saw a bunch of runners and figured that it must be a time trial - and it was. So I hitched a ride and followed their route, which turned out to be fabulous. As luck would have it I'd joined the Rand Road Warriors about 300m from their start!

I know that neighbourhood quite well but as there are so many road closures there are a number of roads that I haven't gone near. This was a merry jaunt through the suburb.

I was back in the area on Sunday evening - to get mom to hospital today for an 8am operation on her ankle (it went well and the road to recovery begins).

I decided to run the time trial route again, following the arrow markings on the ground. Paying more attention to my surroundings than keeping an eye on the runner ahead of me, I took great pleasure in the purple flowers of the jacaranda trees and the deep colours of the bouganvillea in full bloom. Rusty's pose wasn't very good, but you can see why this one caught my eye.

We're in JHB again tonight so that mom can sleep off the effects of the anaesthetic and pain meds. Rusty and I ran a different gated suburb and found this pretty display.

Towards the end of November the Pride of India (Crepe Myrtle) trees should get their flowers - they are magnificent and they turn Parys colourful. Time for me to work on Rusty's photo poses.

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Likkewaan's two-day Vaal kayak event

I had an AWESOME weekend. I haven't had the whole weekend off for way too long and as this one was spent outside and active, it was just perfect.

My paddling club, Likkewaan Canoe Club, presented a two-day event on the Vaal River. It started upstream from Parys just below the Barrage wall in Vanderbijlpark and finished at our clubhouse in Parys; split in two two stages.

The first stage was 18km in distance and Celliers paddled with me. We were paddling our Mazowe double and we'd volunteered to sweep at the back of the race. Paddling a double, plastic sit-on-top vs fibreglass K1 and K1 kayaks, meant that we would be at the back anyway.

This section is mostly flatwater with only two features: the 'Benoude Boude' (nervous bottom) rapid, which is very rocky at the current low water level, and the Goosebay Canyon weir, which has an awesome slippy-slide chute.

You can watch the video of me and Celliers sliding down the chute on Facebook.

We had excellent sightings of a goliath heron (I haven't seen one for a while) and a giant kingfisher. And lots of other geese, darters and the like. After the extensive pollution of recent months, it is good to see the waterbirds returning.

Celliers struggled with his shoulder (due for an op in January) but even so we still made good time. We covered the distance in 2h18 at a moderate effort level (approx 8km/hr) and finished within 30-minutes of the last K1.

For Day 2's 24km stage it was girl power all the way. My friend Martie joined me and Karen and Cindy took the second kayak. This was the longest paddle by far for both Martie and Cindy and they totally rocked it.

Setting off.
This was superb section with many more features. There are numerous rapids along the way and a good number of braids and islands so the 'terrain' is interesting.

With Martie, my paddle mate.
Water is very low so the rapids were less rapid and more rocky. I enjoy picking channels and routes so I thoroughly enjoyed it; although another 10 cumec of water would make a big difference. I definitely plan to come out to paddle this again when the water comes up.

A brilliant sighting was that of two fish eagles in the trees right next to us. We even saw one effortlessly catch a small fish. 

Cindy & Karen

Our paddle was a bit more leisurely than the day before - but still smooth and solid. We finished about 30 minutes behind the last K1.

My shoulders and back definitely felt worked and my hands were tired by the end of 42km of paddling over two days. That is more paddling than I've probably done this whole year! I loved it and I can't wait to get back on the river, especially that Day 2 section (with more water).

When I got home on each day, I didn't even turn on my computer and instead I chilled in my garden and indulged in afternoon naps (on both days!). What a treat! I definitely need more weekends like this.

Sunday 14 October 2018

Zippy roadtrip from East London to Cape Town

In the last week of September, Celliers and I did a zippy roadtrip from East London to Cape Town to visit dealers along the way. It really was a whistles-stop trip as we needed to squeeze it in between factory demands at home and leaving for PaddleExpo in Germany. We had three nights between trips.

Totally styling ;) Leaving our factory.
A trailer full of kayaks is a wonderful sight.
We headed first to East London and then along the coast, staying with friends in towns along the way. It was a crazy trip covering a bit over 3,500km in seven days with about 25 stops.

Canola flowers on the way to Stilbaai.
I didn't take many photos and I didn't see that much of the scenery. I spent most of every drive calling ahead to confirm our ETA and making arrangements. It was hectic.
East London visit. These trees are magnificent.

One of our best days was the Friday spent in Cape Town. We stayed with my dear friend Ray and were up early Friday morning for a paddle shoot at Zandvlei. It was also a combo 'demo session' and we invited some people along. Ray took stunning photos from his camera and drone. What a magnificent morning!

Paddling our Mazowe with Celliers

Paddling with Terrence from The Paddle Mag.

Standing up on our Stand-up Platform is a fun Vagabond 'party trick'. Our kayaks are this stable! And once one person stands up, everyone gives it a try.

Celliers paddling a Kasai. That's a kids Kwando in the background.

Standing up is contagious.

Our kids Kwando is the best children's kayak in the world.
We then headed to Fishhoek and then over Chapmans Peak to Hout Bay. It was one of those absolutely perfect Cape Town days where the incredible beauty of this area shines.

On the Chapman's Peak road, heading to Hout Bay (in the background).
We love our kayaks.
We got home, had 2.5 days in the factory and then left for PaddleExpo in Germany. Phew!

PaddleExpo tradeshow in Germany

I got back on Tuesday after a few days in Germany for PaddleExpo, a paddlesports-focused tradeshow held annual in Nuremberg. This was my first time in Germany and although it was an in-and-out trip, much like our tradeshow trip to Oklahoma in late August, it gave me a brief taste of the place. Being there in autumn, the outside temperature was just perfect.

We had a superbly busy show and is was a treat to encounter so many people from all over Europe - from Greece to Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Finland, Norway as well as Singapore and India. The variety in accented English was charming.

Now that we're back, we (I!) have a ton of work to do to convert interest to orders in preparation for the European season next year.

PaddleExpo showcases everything from SUP, rafting and whitewater to high-end Olympic sprint and marathon kayaks. Plus every accessory imaginable. 
Our stand. We arrived late-morning on the Thursday. I stayed at the show to wait for our kayaks to be delivered (they missed their connecting flight in Luxembourg and only landed that morning - still had to go through customs clearance) and to get the wall panels up to hang our large banners. Celliers and James went to a hardware store to buy lengths of wood to build our stands. They came out beautifully.
Our team. Celliers, me, James, Wendy and Marius. Wendy came through from the Netherlands to join us for a day and a bit. She has a lot of experience in the paddlesports industry and she has worked with Celliers in the past. It really was a treat to have her with us. She knows so many people and understands all the ins-and-outs of this industry. 
I am very proud to be part of creating this company and brand.
Every one of our fittings have been custom-designed by Celliers. Nothing generic for us! From top, L-R: Clip rings, 8" screw hatch, scupper venturi system, multifit, footrest system, handles (this is anodised aluminium on our whitewater kayaks; we have orange plastic handles on our recreational kayaks).
I'm so over sweet bars. This one was fabulous -  a savoury bar.
On Monday, before we had to leave for the airport, we went walkabout. I found a super incredible pet store. The boys left me to it. These are all dog treats! And they have dozens of brands of dog food and snacks and treats in so many incredible flavours. Of course I bought a couple for Rusty. Very well priced and actually cheaper than packets of treats at home.
One of the treats I bought for Rusty. I thought that these balls would be medium softness but they are actually quite hard and great for a good chew. She loves them.
A quick lunch before heading to the airport.