‘Full House’ Hemingway to race his 20th Drak

2013-01-17 00:00

IF Owen Hemingway was a poker player, he would probably be known as “Full House” Hemingway, such is his character and determination in going the distance.

Instead, he has made the Drak Challenge two-day paddling event his own, being the only paddler to complete every race since it started in 1994.

It’s a record to be proud of and he puts his determination and stamina down to “brute force and ignorance”, although, as owner of a canoe shop in Pietermaritzburg, he knows that it takes a certain degree of skill and determination to survive on the river.

Said Hemingway: “Paddling is serious business and to take on any race, plenty of time needs to be spent on the water, competing in other events.

“This gives experience when dealing with different conditions on a river, plus it allows a paddler to get used to a boat, ensuring it is comfortable and easily controlled. These are important assets to have under your belt as it’s not just a case of arriving and starting to paddle.”

Through the years, Hemingway has seen all the Umzimkulu River has to offer, from big water to low water, with tight turns and sometimes impressive waves adding to the challenge.

However, as with most sportsmen, it’s always the first challenge that sticks in the mind. “That 1994 race always comes to mind. We headed into the unknown. It was a new river, no one had paddled it before and the river was a raging torrent, not quite the welcome we wanted.

“I had two swims that year and remember dodging a number of boats that were just floating by, with no one in them,” said Hemingway.

Nineteen starts and 19 finishes is an impressive record, which Hemingway puts down to being able to relax before each race.

He recalls: “I was a professional motocross rider back in the day and getting into a boat on a river is not as daunting. It means I never have any pre-race jitters and I just get on with the job.”

Hemingway has certainly been bitten by the Drak bug, much like a Comrades runner who returns year after year to meet the challenge, despite the aches, pains and sheer hell experienced over nearly 90 km. However, there is more to this than a hot, unrelenting open road and screaming muscles.

“I come back every year because of what the race is and what it offers. The water is clean, the scenery is magical and it’s in a great part of the world …” he says.

Organisers are hoping entries top the 1 000 mark for this year’s race starting on Saturday at Castleburn resort, about 25 km inland from Underberg. It finishes on Sunday at Early Mist Farm, near Coleford.

Visit www.drak.co.za.

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