A morning of high drama at the notorious Keith’s Flyover rapid turned the first stage of the Hansa Powerade Fish River Canoe marathon in the Eastern Cape of South Africa on it’s head, as several title contenders were unceremonious dumped in the churning water, ending the challenge of the German crew of Max Hoff and Stephen Stiefenhoefer in a fleeting controversial collision in the rapid.

Hoff and Stiefenhoefer were right behind Hank McGregor and Grant van der Walt into the rapid when the race leaders were stopped dead in their tracks by a massive stopper wave. The Germans collided with the stationary kayak and capsized, and in seconds their kayak was sucked under water and out of sight, ending their race.

McGregor and Van der Walt went on to win the tough 46km stage to Knutsford, with the Cradock locals Ryan and Greg Louw alongside them, while the frustrated Germans were left to rue what might have been.

“Somebody should teach them how to paddle,” said Stiefenhoefer about the collision with McGregor and van der Walt. “They stopped paddling in the big water and we went under their boat and lost our canoe. It is very unfortunate that we are out of the race.”

Van der Walt was exhausted after the stage, suffering the after effects of his medal-winning effort at the world marathon championships in the Czech Republic a fortnight ago. The leaders were caught by the Louw brothers shortly after Soutpansdrift rapids, and paddled the final forty percent of the stage together.

“I realised that Grant was really exhausted, so it will be interesting to see how tomorrows unfolds,” said McGregor.

“We had a great day, apart from getting well and truly molested in Keith’s Flyover,” said Ryan Louw. “At each portage we got splits that we were getting closer and closer to Hank (McGregor) and Grant (van der Walt), and we worked together for the last bit.”

Third was the crew of Doug Bird and Nic Burden, three minutes behind the two leaders, two and a half minutes ahead of the fourth placed Maties crew of Ernest Van Riet and Heinrich Schloms.

Dusi hero Michael Mbanjwa and his partner Piers Cruikshanks were also Keith’s Flyover casualties, as their kayak joined the heap of boats wrecked by the unforgiving rapid.

The women’s race produced even more drama at Keith’s Flyover as the first two crews swam through the nasty rapid, as Carol Joyce and Jen Hodson capsized moment before Alexa Cole and Bridgitte Hartley swam.

Abbey Miedema and Michéle Eray momentarily took the lead as they portaged around the rapid, only to see the Czech duo Michala Mruskova and Katerina Vacikova successfully shot the rapid to race into the lead.

“We had a real scare at the top of the rapid,” said Mruskova after the stage win. “We were hit by the big wave above the bridge and we started to capsize as well. I had to do half an Eskimo roll to get us back up, and we were able to complete the rest of the rapid.”

Miedema and Eray finished fifty seconds adrift of the Czech girls, who gradually pulled away from them in the final hour, with Cole and Hartley third, a further minute back.

The Cradock schoolgirls Suzette and Hanre Maree returned another result that will please the hometown supporters with an excellent fourth in the women’s race overall, and comfortable leaders in the junior girls race.

The leading junior boys are Stu Waterworth and Ben Biggs, who raced home to ninth place overall.

Star South African sprinter and former world marathon champ Shaun Rubenstein also posted a superb result with his less experienced friend Justin Bark, finishing fourteenth overall.

World marathon champions Ant Stott and Cam Schoeman did not start the race after Stott failed to recover from a mystery virus that laid him low for two days prior to the race.

While most of the first stage of the race went off smoothly, ambulance staff had to deal with one broken leg, and a paddler who had to be stabilised after battling with chest pains.

The final 36km stage from Knutsford to Cradock includes three testing weirs in the final ten kilometres, including the four metres high Cradock weir that has regularly played a major part in determining the outcome of the race

Mens K2:
Hank McGregor / Grant van der Walt 02:49:21
2.Greg Louw / Ryan Louw 02:49:22
3.Douglas Bird / Nicholas Burden 02:52:18
4.Ernst van Riet / Heinrich Scholms 02:54:45
5.Michael Arthur / Nick Stubbs 02:57:04
6.Alex Roberts / Gavin Payne 02:57:38
7.Andrew Birkett / Pierre-Andre Rabie 02:59:30
8.Mike Harris / Brandon Collyer 03:00:03
9.Ben Biggs / Stuart Waterworth 03:00:23
10.Adrian Bam / Rory Sandberg 03:01:32
11.Shaun Griffin / Stuart Clifton 03:02:10
12.Herman Chalupsky / Andre Pohl 03:03:01
13.Andrew Birkett / James Birkett 03:03:04
14.Shaun Rubenstein / Justin Bark 03:03:48
15.Pieter-Willem Basson / Lance King 03:03:49
16.Brandon van der Walt / Murray Burgess 03:03:49
17.Mark Smith / Roger Mortlock 03:04:22
18.Juan Maree / Martin van den Bergh 03:07:23
19.Gavin Tarr / Michael de Villiers 03:09:37
20.Dirk van den Berg / Mark Essery 03:09:48
Women K2:
1.Michala Mruzkova / Katerina Vacikova 03:07:02
2.Abbey Miedema / Michelle Eray 03:07:50
3.Alexa Cole / Brigitte Hartley 03:08:35
4.Suzette Maree / Hanre Maree 03:18:30
5.Kelly Howe / Tiffany Kruger 03:20:39
Mixed doubles:
1.Michelle Eder / Oliver Burn 03:15:13
2.Mark Mulder / Angelique Mulder 03:19:20
3.Andrew Skowno / Janet Vorster 03:19:24
4.Sean Rice / Jackie Barnes 03:21:12
5.Kate March / Nicholas March 03:24:57
Junior boys:
1.Ben Biggs / Stuart Waterworth 03:00:23
2.Brandon van der Walt / Murray Burgess 03:03:49
3.Luke Chalupsky / Jonathan Jacob 03:11:04
Junior girls:
1.Suzette Maree / Hanre Maree 03:18:30
2.Vicki Chiazzari / Lindsey Davis 03:31:46
3.Tamika Haw / Lauren Canham 03:35:40