Blazing a wave trail

2013-11-20 00:00

ANT Stott (35) is a quiet man. He is not one to shout about or prove his worth, but put him in the right environment and he becomes a giant, a respected opponent and a master of his craft.

That craft is paddling, a sport where he has gone about his business without fuss, yet left a legacy to be admired for years to come.

Too small to play much rugby — he enjoyed the game, starting as a flank and progressing to centre in the lower teams — he focused on paddling. This started taking off when he was a pupil at Maritzburg College.

“I grew up in Winterton and did some bits and pieces of paddling, nothing serious,” said Stott. “Then, when I was 10 years old, Ralph George, a Springbok slalom paddler, had a clinic in Estcourt. I went along and it was the first time I had been in a proper boat as such.

“It was a once-off thing and it was only in standard six at College that the bug really bit me.”

Paddling was a school sport and Stott was in his element. As a boarder, he was able to climb into a boat every day and his love for the sport, and his dreams, began to take shape.

“As an individual sport, I loved the moments on the water and it grew my desire to achieve. Things I had dreamed off, like winning the Dusi, were suddenly not so far-fetched,” he said.

“When I was 17 or 18, I hatched the idea of winning Dusi and competing at the Olympics. In 1995, my matric year, I was selected in the national junior team, competing at the World Champs in Japan, and I realised I could go places and achieve something in paddling.”

Stott took on his first Dusi (1993) when he was 14, paddling with his brother Steven. “It was a K1 year but we went as a pair, being our first time,” said Stott. “We came 316th and the following year, I improved to 66th, the second junior home.”

Reflecting on that first Dusi, Stott smiles as he remembers his and Steven’s preparation. “We had no idea what we were in for. We did basic training and were totally blind as to what we had to do or what the river was all about,” he said.

“There was low water that year and we did some heavy portaging. There was more running than paddling, but we completed the job.”

Steadily moving up the ladder, Stott realised his dream in 1998, when he won his first Dusi, a K2 title, with Kelby Murray. This followed his 33rd place in 1995 (first junior), 21st in 1996 and 13th in 1997 after his boat broke when he was lying third at Tombi Rapid.

The pair could not defend their title in 1999, as Murray smashed his leg while tubing shortly after the race. “He was out for 18 months and could not run. He lost eight kilograms of muscle and had operations, plates and screws — the whole works done to his leg.”

They were back in 2000, leading the race, when Murray broke his ankle at Campbell’s on the first day. “He dug deep and soldiered on. We finished third overall but portaging was hell as I had to take the boat on my own,” said Stott.

Further wins in 2004 with Martin Dreyer and his first singles win in 2007 stamped Stott’s pedigree on the great race. He won again in 2009 (singles) and lost by a mere 0,3 of a second to Andy Birkett in 2011.

His record of eight second places, four wins (two doubles and two singles) and 14 gold medals for top 10 finishes, including sixth this year when he was “not being competitive”, make him a true Dusi Rat and one of the greats of the race.

At international level, he has flown the South African flag with pride. “I won the 2008 World Marathon Champs with Cam Schoeman in the Czech Republic and have paddled extensively in Europe, with Spain my favourite. It’s beautiful and I have always found it competitive,” said Stott.

Singapore, Japan and New Zealand’s waters have also been graced by Stott and it’s only the Olympics that has eluded him. “I tried for the Olympics up until 2003. I failed to qualify for Beijing, finding that speed, strength and sprinting was the key to making the trip,” said Stott. “I am more of an endurance paddler with my training making me better for marathon racing. My physique is more suited to the longer stuff too.”

Having left his mark on the Dusi, Stott looked for a new challenge and, being a true water baby living in Durban, he has taken to the waves, blazing a trail in waveskiing.

“It’s given me a new lease of life. I started having a go at the beginning of last year but, running my own business, found it hard to fit in the time needed to make it count,” said Stott. “I had tried surfing but a shoulder injury saw me turn to waveskiing. This year, I balanced my lifestyle and started to compete, putting in two hours on the water before work on most days,” he said.

Needless to say, Stott is just as adept on the waves as he was on the river. “I have been selected in the seniors for the World Waveski Titles in Durban next year and that is my immediate focus,” he said. “Whatever I do, there has to be some form of competition or it becomes pointless. Like paddling, waveskiing is something I enjoy and have become quite good at, doing enough for national recognition.”

It’s a reflection on Stott’s demeanour that he has a steely resolve to succeed at whatever he attempts. He may be small in stature, but he is infinite in determination and the will to succeed. Even in planning his future he has left nothing to chance. “I’m engaged to Keetah Biggs, from the Biggs canoeing family,” said Stott. “That works for me as she knows all about life on the water and that suits me fine.”

Stott lifestyle

Is a coffee freak always looking for the ultimate coffee

Enjoys cooking but is better at motivating others to cook

A good Durban curry goes down well

Drinks red wine, which fits into his lifestyle of waves and coffee

Likes reading biographies and non-fiction

No musical bone in his body

Enjoys local music such as Lieutenant Vinyl, Gangs of Ballet — real music

Likes to get to bed early so can use the mornings to hit the waves

Loves water and surfing whenever he can. A passion in life

Coffee gives him some culture, which he can balance with waveskiing

Advice to youngsters

Can make a comfortable living from paddling but there are no shortcuts to being good. It takes hard work to get to the top but a love for what you do is vital. Keep the passion alive and remember to add a fun element, which helps to achieve the results you desire.

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