Cradock – Dusi champion Sbonelo Khwela has set his sights on the hugely popular Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon on 10 and 11 October, using his solid midyear base as a springboard to challenge for a place amongst the gold medallists.
A top ten finish has somehow eluded the popular Shongweni hero, still known in some quarters as Sbonelo “Eric” Zondi, a family name that he has dropped in favour of aligning himself with the Khwela side of his family. He admires the prestige of finishing in the top ten overall, but is also viewing the Hansa Fish as part of his plans for the summer season that leads to the 2015 K1 Dusi Canoe Marathon.
With a Dusi winner’s medal under his belt the EuroSteel/Computershare Change a Life star has always been able to take on the top paddlers in Kwa-Zulu Natal races but heading down to Cradock and the Hansa Fish is a very different entity and it is something that he has not quite got to grips with.
“The Hansa Fish is a river race not a running race,” Khwela said. “Working on my paddling is something that I have had to work really hard on and being able to challenge the big guys like Andy [Birkett] on the river is something that I am going to have to do.”
Khwela has been busy during the winter months with him taking part in a number of races around the country as well starting his preparation for what is going to be another exciting season of paddling following the Hansa Fish.
“I paddled at the Berg which was quite good for me, the conditions were difficult but I finished in the top 15 which was something that I was hoping to achieve.
“Myself and Thulani [Mbanjwa] then teamed up for the Greek Kalahari Canoe Marathon which was another great race for us but it was in a K2 so I have now been back home preparing and training hard for the K1 season which was quite difficult at the beginning but I am going well again,” a focused Khwela added.
With a tough field around him and a slight unfamiliarity with the Fish River, Khwela has played down his chances of getting into a top position but is not worried about that as he looks to prepare himself for the upcoming KZN river season.
“It is going to be really hard with such a quality field of paddlers and I have never got into the top 10 at the Fish which is something that I am aiming towards. I know the race doesn’t play to my strengths but I have been working hard on improving my paddling.
“I will be aiming for a top 20 position and I would be happy with that but if I can get into the top 10 at the end of the race I will be very happy!,” he added.
Following the Hansa Fish, Khwela heads straight into the river season in Kwa-Zulu Natal and with different conditions expected back home then in the Eastern Cape he will use the Fish as a preparation exercise for what could be a ground-breaking year for the 25-year-old.
“The Fish has some big water which will be good for me but my focus is on what is to come back home with the Ozzie Gladwin and 50 Miler being important races before the Dusi next year.
“I am happy with my form at the moment though and I raced last week to a second place overall which I was happy with so although I still have some way to go I am getting there and the Fish will be a great help for me,” an excited Khwela mentioned.
Although his record at the Hansa Fish is not too flattering the crowd favourite is still looking forward to getting to Cradock and having another go at the Eastern Capes showpiece race.
“I am always excited for the Fish, it is a lot of fun and it is a race that I will always be coming back to!” he explained.
The Hansa Fish River Canoe marathon takes place on Friday 10 and Saturday 11 October 2014. More information can be found at www.fishmarathon.org.za