Women Paddlers Leading the Way

Michéle Eray in action on the first day of the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon. Photo: Jetline Action Photo/Gameplan Media

Canoeing South Africa General Manager Travis Wilkinson is excited about the future of canoeing among women. While the attention is on Bridgitte Hartley after she won bronze in the K1 500m canoe sprint final at the London Olympics, there are a host of bright young stars, giving the sport a positive image.

“It is extremely pleasing to see the increase in numbers of ladies actively participating in paddling across the disciplines, from river paddling, marathons, sprints, slalom, canoe polo and on surfski’s. These numbers are no fluke and across the country a number of dedicated parents, teachers and coaches have been hard at work to motivate and market canoeing, with a focus being on women paddlers.

“This concerted effort has produced the desired result by not only bringing women to paddling but also ensuring that these ladies are competent and competitive. While we are pleased by the growth we are still convinced that this is only the beginning and will continue to encourage and grow the disciplines of paddling amongst women,” says Wilkinson.

He had special praise for Olympic bronze medalist Bridgitte Hartley.

“While Bridgitte Hartley’s achievement has received the recognition it rightly deserves I, personally, do not think the wider public fully realize the enormity of her Olympic Medal! Bridgitte is the first person, male or female, from the continent of Africa to win a medal in Sprint Canoeing! Her incredible performance in a sport that has been totally dominated by European ladies over the years has shown not only women in South Africa what can be done, but women paddlers across the globe,” he says.

Wilkinson’s comments come after another strong showing by SA’s women paddlers at the 2012 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon, where Michéle Eray beat her 2010 K2 partner Robyn Kime for the K1 title at the hugely popular two-day, 84km event which took place on 5 and 6 October. Abby Adie came in third.

This was a sweet victory for hometown girl, Eray who was a cornerstone of the South African women’s K4 that made their A final at the Beijing Olympics. She went on to achieve massive success as a river marathoner and surfski racer until she picked up a serious wrist injury from overuse midway through 2011.

Women's defending champion Robyn Kime lost out to her K2 Partner Michéle Eray for the overall women's title but managed to reclaim her U23 title.Photo:  Jetline Action Photo/Gameplan Media  Although she didn’t win with the title for elite women, 2009 champion and recently crowned Maties Sportswoman of the Year, Kime walked away with the U23 title. “It was a very good race for me. I didn’t feel that strong going into it but everything turned out well. I am very happy with my performance,” she says.

“I have been doing the Hansa Fish River Marathon since I was 14 or 15-years-old and it’s always good fun. It’s in the middle of the country and everyone has to travel to get there. The atmosphere is great and it’s one of the most competitive races.”

16-year-old Jordan Peek won the U18 competition and was placed sixth overall in the women’s race. “I felt very prepared going into the race but the first day was very hard for me and I felt pressure to do well,” Peek says.

“I knew I had to work harder on the second day and I came back really well. This was my first time in a single kayak and I have been doing the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon for 4 years now. I did a lot of training beforehand which paid for me in the end.”

This year’s very strong field of competitors included Hartley, who won the K3 title along with Nick and Paul Barden. Hartley was doing the race for former Springbok Corné Krige charity which aims raise funds to assist several badly under-resourced schools in the Cradock area.

“I am passionate about doing charity work in general and I jumped at the chance to get involved when I heard about this initiative,” Hartley says.

“We had an auction after the race to raise funds for the charity and one of my paddling vests from the Olympics was auctioned for R25 000! This was amazing! I am always happy to help where I can.”

Although it was a social outing for her she still enjoyed the competitiveness of it all. “It felt really good to be back in the water again. This was my first K3 race and I really enjoyed it. Paul and Nick are good friends of mine.”

“I am hoping to be more competitive in the women’s field next year, maybe in the K2.”

“My next big race in only in May next year but I am hoping to enter a few local races before then,” Hartley says.

This year’s race was a K1 (single-seater kayak) championship year which means all prize money therefore went to those who compete in a K1. There were 32 women K1s, 10 all-women K2s (two-seater kayak) and 1 all-women K3 (three-seater kayak) to complete the race as well as .The K3 was a mom and daughters combo of mom Penny and her two daughters Cara and Tayne Bush.

“This was my third year doing the race with my daughters. I have three daughters and I have done the race with all of them now,” Bush says. “I am very happy with our performance, we had a wonderful time.”

The women’s results for this year’s Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon:
Overall Women:
1. Michéle Eray 2:24.13 5:39.58
2. Robyn Kime (U23) 2:23.42 5:42.39
3. Abby Adie (U23) 2:26.22 5:47.08
4. Jenna Ward (U23) 2:31.04 5:58.09
5. Hilary Pitchford 2:30.56 6:01.39
6. Jordan Peek (U18) 2:34.37 6:09.06
7. Kerry Segal (U18) 2:37.37 6:09.39
8. Kerry Louw 2:37.47 6:11.39
9. Kerry Shuter (U18) 2:40.23 6:12.23
10. Brittany Petersen (U18) 2:36.43 6:15.52
U23 Women:
1. Robyn Kime 2:23.42 5:42.39
2. Abby Adie 2:26.22 5:47.08
3. Jenna Ward 2:31.04 5:58.09
U18 Girls:
1. Jordan Peek 2:34.37 6:09.06
2. Kerry Segal 2:37.37 6:09.39
3. Kerry Shuter 2:40.23 6:12.23


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