Brit Brown leaves mark on Berg opening stage

Words: Kyle Gilham | Photos: John Hishin

History was made on stage one of the 52nd edition of the Berg River Canoe Marathon as former Junior and Senior World Marathon Champ Ben Brown became the first British paddler to claim a stage of Western Cape’s premier canoe marathon since John Fowler in 1979 whilst KZN-based Jenna Ward took the early lead in the women’s title race.

Brown, making his first ever appearance at the 240km race, combined perfectly with experienced veteran Graeme Solomon and fellow local title contender Lance King as the trio systematically reduced the six man initial lead group to just three.


Brown then drew on his profound flatwater talents over the final few kilometers before the finish line to edge ahead of Solomon and King, to take the stage victory from the local stars by just three and five seconds respectively.


“The Berg is such an iconic race so just to be here competing in, let alone winning a stage at, this prestigious race is just fantastic,” said Brown. “To be making history is also obviously pretty special too but there’s a long way to go still.”


“I didn’t have such a good time trial yesterday so I wanted to start well today and I knew if I could get through the tree blocks pretty unscathed and still be with the top guys I’d be in with a shout come the flat sections towards the end.”


“I got caught in the trees a couple of times but fortunately it only really took me a couple of minutes to catch back up again each time so towards the end there I put my head down and worked a little harder towards the line and I’m pretty happy with the stage win,” he added.


Brown paid tribute to the helpful nature of his fellow competitors and is hoping to follow a similar day’s tactics in Thursday’s shorter second stage from Zonquasdrift to Bridgetown.


“Graeme (Solomon) and Ivan (Kruger) were fantastic and even Lance (King) was offering bits of advice out there on the river. I just got the feeling they were happy to have me with them,” said Brown.


“Tomorrow will be a new day though and hopefully I can go about things pretty similarly to today. My goal before the race was to podium on at least one of the days so to have done that already today is great but now things change a little and the next few days will be very exciting.


Solomon, who narrowly edged out King for second place on the day, was also content with the day’s proceedings, particularly given his heavier frame and the medium to low river level.


“I just needed to try stay with the lighter guys today and then see how things go when there’s a bit more water a little further down the river. I was able to do that today so I’m pretty happy and now I may just be able to compete with these guys a little later on,” said the Bamboo Warehouse competitor.


U23 star Kruger worked hard to stay with the lead three however a slump midway through the stage saw him fall off the pace before a strong finish helped him resurrect his race somewhat.


“It was pretty frustrating falling off the bunch but I felt a lot better after Hermon Bridge and had a good finish and it’s a long race still so it’s definitely not over just yet,” said Kruger.


Whilst Pierre-Andre Rabie claimed fifth position, the real story was that of 61 year old Lee McGregor finishing on his wave in sixth, whilst Edgar Boehm Jnr. and Louw van Riet finished in the same group, claiming seventh and eighth respectively.


After recently being called back home from the U.S by his son, nine-time race winner Hank McGregor, McGregor has only been back in a boat for the past five months however the Grandmaster competitor showed his remarkable pedigree as he looked completely at home amongst his significantly younger competitors.


“It’s a bit of a joke really,” chuckled McGregor afterwards. “It’s great to have finished with these younger guys but I’m absolutely shattered now so I haven’t even thought about tomorrow yet.”


“I see myself as a bit of a Ferrari, a 1951 Ferrari though whose engine isn’t quite what it used to be a few years ago. Today things went well for though so its pleasing but we’ll have to start all over again in the morning,” he added.


Dusi darling Sbonelo Zondi (Computershare Change a Life Academy) worked hard to stay with the lead bunch for the first third of the stage however his unfamiliarity with the river eventually got the better of him and he dropped back during the course of the day to finally cross the line ninth.


Ward, in her second attempt at the race having finished third in 2012, played a game of catch and mouse with local lass Kirsten Penderis as the lead swayed to and fro throughout the stage before Ward made her move with four kilometers to go.


“It’s nice to have gotten the win today but there are still three long days to go so we’ll have to see what happens,” said Ward.


“I sat with Kirsten for most of the way and then at 58km a guy came past us so I decided to put the hammer down and go with him and managed to get ahead of Kirsten a little.


“With the batch start tomorrow hopefully I can try get onto one of the guys waves and open up a little more of a gap on Kirsten,” she added.


Despite battling it out for the overall spoils Ivan Kruger went to the top of the log of the under 23 category after his opening day’s efforts whilst Computershare Change a Life Academy’s Mthobisi Cele leads proceedings in the under 18 category despite this too being his first hit out in the Western Cape.


Day two of the 2013 Berg River Canoe Marathon from Zonquasdrift to Bridgetown starts at 09h00. More information can be found at


Summary of Results: Berg River Canoe Marathon Stage 1



1.Ben Brown 4:15.05
2.Graeme Solomon 4:15.08
3.Lance King 4:15.10
4.Ivan Kruger (U23) 4:21.29
5.Pierre-Andre Rabie 4:25.29
6.Lee McGregor 4:25.30
7.Edgar Boehm Jnr. 4:25.30
8.Louw van Riet 4:25.31
9.Sbonelo Zondi 4:27.04
10.Paul Marais 4:34.30
11.Joseph Williams (U23) 4:34.31
12.Gavin White 4:34.34
13.Greg van Heerden 4:39.34
14.Zonele Nzuza 4:39.36
15.Chris de Waal 4:42.06
16.Luke Stowman (U23) 4:42.07
17.John de Villiers 4:42.07
18.Mthobisi Cele (U18) 4:44.31
19.Mynhardt Marais 4:45.01
20.Shaun Maphanga 4:45.03



1.Jenna Ward 5:04.43
2.Kirsten Penderis 5:05.25
3.Joritha Prins 5:18.44


U23 Men

1. Ivan Kruger 4:21.29
2. Joseph Williams 4:34.31
3. Luke Stowman 4:42.07


U18 Boys

1. Mthobisi Cele 4:44.31
2.Michael Farringer 4:45.05
3.Michael Pretorius 4:56.10