There are club-hosted time trials (the domain of K1s and K2s), kayak races (also for K1s, K2s and, only recently, surfskis) and surfski events… But, there are no organised events for regular people with a sit-on-top in their garage that they only use for family holidays at the coast once a year.

Enter Paddling Race, a new monthly event series held from the Likkewaan Canoe Club on the Vaal River in Parys.


Only 125km from Johannesburg, Parys is a popular weekend-getaway destination with its cafes, antique and gift shops, B&Bs and an abundance of outdoor activities. While the town is known for whitewater rafting, the river here also offers magnificent stretches of flatwater paddling with beautiful riverine scenery. Birdlife is abundant and local paddlers never tire of hearing fish eagles and seeing grey herons, goliath herons and various kingfishers.

Paddling Race has been created by Lisa de Speville and Celliers Kruger. Where Celliers comes from a paddling background that includes every conceivable kayaking discipline, Lisa’s focus has been on adventure racing, trailrunning and orienteering for over 20 years – both as a participant and event organiser. She is also the Event Director of the Parys parkrun and has been part of the impact that this running/walking event has had on the lives of people in her community. Together, Lisa and Celliers are the force behind Vagabond Kayaks.

“Paddling needs to be more open, friendly and accessible,” Lisa says.

“We’ll only get more people to paddle for pleasure when they have access to kayaks that are stable and enjoyable to paddle; when they have access to safe waterways that are located not too far from their homes and where there are fun, family-friendly events that they can participate in.”  Lisa adds that events show people where they can go to paddle, exposes them to the area in a safe and controlled environment and builds their confidence and competence.

Paddling Race offers 2km and 5km courses that take paddlers on a beautiful section of flatwater on a route that goes through channels and between islands. The event encourages participants to bring along any type of kayak: plastic sit-on-tops, touring kayaks, surfskis, K1s, K2s and even inflatables and stand-up paddleboards. Vagabond has a fleet of kayaks that can be hired for the event and PFDs and paddles are provided. The event takes place monthly, on the first Sunday of the month and the direction of the route alternates each time.

“Our first event, held at the beginning of March, had 40 entrants,” Lisa says, “and only seven of the participants were people who paddle with some degree of regularity. The rest were infrequent, a-long-time-ago, or first-time paddlers. Yes! Yes! Yes! This is exactly why we created Paddling Race.”

On the 5km course, the fastest time of 34:44 was logged by a 12-year old boy paddling a guppy K1. The slowest time of 1:13:00 was recorded by two double sit-on-tops paddled by a mom and dad (sporty, but first-time paddlers), each with a young child in the front seat. Five-kilometres is just the right distance.

Lisa would love to see more Paddling Race-type events organised by other people around the country.

“Think of Paddling Race as parkrun-for-paddling,” she says. Lisa advises event organisers to keep it simple by having two routes (max. 5km) and presenting the event at the same place, on the same route and at the same time each month.

“We’re in the early days with Paddling Race. I hope to see good growth in the number and age spread of participants and the variety of kayaks over the next year.”

Paddling Race is on Facebook at and full event information can be found on vagabondkayaks.com/paddling-race.

Paddling: Barriers to participationPaddling has a number of barriers to participation that can position this superb sport in people’s minds as a pastime to only be enjoyed through kayak hire or using their sit-on-top at the coast on holiday. Instead, even in our cities, paddling is an activity that is accessible and low expense.

Participation barriers

  • Owning a kayak, PFD and paddle
  • Instability of K1s offered by clubs to newcomers – a significant deterrent.
  • Transporting the kayak (vehicle and roof racks)
  • Access to water
  • Perceived safety risks

Solutions

The first of these barriers can be removed when events and kayak clubs have equipment for rent or to borrow (as a club member). It goes without saying that sit-on-tops should be the first kayak presented to a newcomer.

Events expose people to places where they can paddle.

There are many waterways – dams and rivers – in and near our cities. Rivers are not all about rocks, rapids, tree blocks, strainers and other hazards; instead, there are more sections of flatwater available on our rivers than you would have the time to paddle in your lifetime. There are also estuaries and lagoons as well as the sea for coastal dwellers. Paddlers should always be aware of water levels, tides, wind and the changeability of the weather. Conditions on water can change in a flash from flat-and-calm to whipped-up white caps in a matter of minutes. It is always a good idea to paddle with a friend, to wear a PFD at all times and to know how to get back on to your kayak if you fall off.

Published in the April/May 2019 issue of The Paddle Mag. This free digital publication bursts with superb content. It can be viewed online or downloaded from Issuu.