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