Drak addict is back

2014-12-13 00:00

UNDERBERG — Owen Hemingway is the only person to have completed all 21 editions of the Drak Challenge since the race’s inception in 1994 and the Pie-termaritzburg resident plans to extend his record when he returns to Underberg on 24 and 25 January next year.

The 51-year-old was no stranger to the Mzimkhulu River when the race first started, having paddled it on numerous occasions.

Hemmingway does admit there was a slight mystery to the top section of the river he had not taken on and when the race started at the Trout Hatcheries, he knew he was in for an interesting ride.

“We had paddled the lower section in the annual mixed doubles race but had never been up to the top,” he said.

“It was pretty full when we started in 1994 and nobody knew which boat to use. It was carnage but we got through and I fell in love with the race.”

This passion for the race has led to many memories on rivers across the country, but two Drak Challenge ­memories stand out for Hemingway.

“Of the races I remember, the first one and the 2013 race are the clearest because of the flooded rivers,” he said. “Those are the ones I remember best and I remember 2013 as it was a case of knowing what to expect.

“The first one we didn’t know what was happening and went into rapids blind but 2013 was more intimidating because we knew what was coming.”

Having the record for the most completed Draks is something not at the forefront of Hemingway’s mind.

It’s the conditions the Drak offers plus the event as a whole that keep him coming back.

“I am just a really enthusiastic paddler,” Hemingway said. “It isn’t about the record for me. It is the must-do race every year for me and that is why I return annually.

“I have done one Berg River Canoe Marathon and don’t need to do another, but the Drak is a race that is permanently on my calendar.”

The tight nature of the Drak Challenge course means it isn’t a race hugely popular with K2 paddlers and the twin-craft is not seen frequently on the Mzimkhulu River come race day.

“In the 22 years I have paddled the Drak, I have only done it in a K2 twice, about 15 or 16 years ago.[It’s] more fun in a K1,” said Hemingway.

The Pietermaritzburg local has experienced the race at all water levels and, although the full levels are breath-taking, Hemingway prefers the river to be more docile.

“A medium-full river is the best level to paddle on. When it is too full and you fall out, you won’t see your boat, but when it is lower, it is more forgiving,” he said.

The 2015 N3TC Drak Challenge takes place in Underberg on 24 and 25 January, and more information can be found at www.drakchallenge.co.za. — Gameplan Media.

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