50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 38

A Tribute to the river, A Salute to the Organisers and Two Wishes - by Dave Biggs The Umko Marathon - what a unique canoe race winds its way through this beautiful deep pristine valley often lined with red cliffs and wild fig trees. How privileged we paddlers are! As all Umko vets know the untamed river is never predictable. On a low river the race becomes a serious enduro adventure through a valley of a thousand hills, whereas in flood conditions the river turns into a non-stop brown wave train and is definitely not for the faint-hearted! (Far bigger rapids than Lava Falls on the Colorado!). I personally miss the old format with rapids such as Mpompomani, the Waterfall side shute which is shootable on a medium water level, Whirlpool and of course Gully and No-Name Rapid, but the new format is a winner with good roads and the great Hella Hella campsite as compensation. Finally, the race would never be what it is today without the dedicated organisers, timekeepers and world-class caterers! We paddlers salute you! Two wishes for the race would be: - To see more white-water boats on this special white-water river; - That paddlers and organisers support the late Ian Player in his efforts to promote the Umkomaas river and its catchment area as a wilderness area for future generations. Ladies of the Umko A short fun ‘race’ of mixed doubles was held way back in 1973, long before ladies were officially “allowed” to paddle! Paddlers took their wives and girlfriends from No.8 to around Staebraes. the boat. We were listed as M Boshoff and J Bentel with just (L) next to our names - no mention of a woman’s category on the results list. They only allowed us to enter on condition that a man accompanied us the whole way! Pete Zietsman and Martin Loewenstein were our chaperones. Well, up to rapid No.1-and-a-half on day one anyway. There they broke the nose of their canoe and had some serious repairs to do. After waiting patiently for quite some time they suggested we carry on and they would catch up to us. We had our own little problem later on day one - our steering system snapped. A passing canoeist lent me a pair of vice grips which I used to secure the pedals to the attachment on the side of the boat. I had to remove my shoes and steer tentatively with tippy toes as the vice grips kept slipping off and had to be replaced time and again. Martin and Pete didn’t catch up and finished much later that day. Jenny and I paddled on our own the next day as well. We had an uneventful trip, no swims on either day. The race finished at Goodenough’s weir, where we finished 102nd overall out of 201 paddlers, the first women to complete an Umko on our own”. The first lady we could find a record completing the Umko in a K1 was junior Lorna Oliver in 1992. Antje Manfroni did it in 2005 in a Sabre. Patricia Stannard and Diana Rietz have also done it but - as with all Umko history! - details are sketchy. Writing about the relatively recent history of freestyle paddling Steffan Hughes in Paddler e-zine writes “kayaking is not a sport that records its history well”. Amen to that! Here’s a (very) incomplete list of pioneering ladies: Name First race Completed Pennefather Jane 1983 Whitton Colleen 1983 10+ Boshoff Marlene 1983 4 Bentel Jenny 1983 Grewar Linda 1986 2 Germiquet Debbie 1992 13 Manfroni Antje 1993 16 Meakin Penny 1995 11 Wiggett Robyn 1998 4 Rawlinson Alice 2002 3 Rietz Diana 2004 10 Patricia Stannard 2004 10 Names & info missing? Go to theumko.com and we’ll update Posky Paul and Jane Nairn in ‘73 - Social Race In 1982 mixed teams were allowed to paddle officially for the first time. Colleen Whitton was the first and only lady entry we know of, but she didn’t make the overnight stop. In 1983 thirteen ladies in mixed doubles finished the race for the first time. First home was Jane Pennefather with Rory. The first ladies to do it on their own were Marlene Boshoff and Jenny Bentel in a K2 in 1986. Marlene recounts: In 1986 Jenny and I were the only women to paddle on our own and we became the first women to do the Umko without a man in UMKO 50 Years Stalwart Antje Manfroni, 16-Umko veteran writes: “I did my first Umko in the early ‘90s with Stan Freiman in a K2. I was a fresh arrival from Germany and had never encountered such a river with that size rapids … in fact I did not know that it was possible to paddle it in K1s and K2s instead of white water boats. Stan suggested taking me down in a double. I agreed, and we drove down to Umko. So I didn’t have an “intro” to the river via stories or tripping, but I guess ignorance can be bliss as it eliminated any fear! As we arrived Stan realised we had a few vital pieces missing and so we went scouting around for those, missing our start. I was getting quite 38