The all new paddling race by Vagabond Kayaks gives you another reason to spend time in the water

Article by Chris Wilcock


When? First Sunday of the Month

Where? Parys

How Much? R50 per person, R200 for a 2-person kayak rental

How Long? 2km – 5km

Those of you who have come across any of my previous reviews will know that they are replete with strong words like “tough,” “grueling,” “extreme,” “ultra,” “challenging” and suchlike. This review is something completely different…gentle if you will.

Having seen an advert for the Paddling Race it was quick and easy to enter and book a Vagabond Mazowe rental kayak for Sanet and I to try out some paddling. I have done some recreational paddling over the years but Sanet had never even sat in a kayak, so it is fair to say that we were utter novices. We would be a true test for the Mazowe. Spoiler alert: the Mazowe came through with flying colours!

So, with our flasks of coffee and dry sets of clothes packed, we set off on a quick-and-easy trip (those words again) down the N1 to Parys where we splashed through the mud to the lawns of the Likkewaan Canoe Club where Lisa de Speville, Liz, Celliers and their many helpers had set up everything for the race.

Chris (gently) Reviews The Paddling Race With Vagabond Kayaks

It is daunting being a novice among seasoned competitors – I believe that they are called river rats – who have all the cool looking gear and themselves look lean, mean and purposeful. However, a Paddling Race is great place to start as everyone is relaxed and there are plenty of other novices around. Lisa describes it as a kind of “parkrun for paddling” where novices and recreational paddlers can feel comfortable and seasoned racers can load up their kids and dogs and just have fun for a change. The aim, Lisa says is to provide “a fun, accessible, family-friendly monthly event [which] provides an opportunity for people to paddle in an environment that is safe, with marshals to guide you and lovely scenery.”

According to Lisa the first event attracted about 40 participants of which only 7 were paddlers. The rest were novices or very occasional “holiday paddlers.” In our event, the second one held, there were 25 adults, 4 juniors and 1 child in the 5km event and 2 dads with 5 children in the 2km event. There were quite a few dogs on board various kayaks and the pooches seemed to enjoy the paddling as much as the humans. Maybe more because they didn’t actually have to paddle!

The threatening weather, which probably deterred a few potential participants, led to the 2km field being turned around early. The weather for the May and June events will probably be colder but more settled. The cold, crisp, clear, glorious winter weather in this part of the world is legendary!

After getting kitted out in life-jackets, referred to in the paddling community as personal flotation devices (PFDs), listening to Lisa’s brief pre-race briefing and pulling the Mazowe to the riverbank we were good to go. The Vagabonds are easy to get into without tipping over as they are really stable and have a footwell to step into. We got into our kayak, made some adjustments to the footrests and headed for the start line to await the go command. Vagabonds are easy to launch. Other makes, not so much, so there were a few involuntary swims before the start.

Chris (gently) Reviews The Paddling Race With Vagabond Kayaks

Soon we were on our way! Having watched the starts of the Dusi and the Fish, I had envisaged us surging smoothly across the water straight towards the first turn in the river. Real life is very different… A double kayak paddled by novices doesn’t go where it is told to go. It goes where you paddle it, which in our case, was a distinctly zig-zag course that included encounters with patches of floating flora, semi-submerged logs, overhanging trees and even the riverbank. While Sanet and I are a lifelong team of note, a paddling team we are not. Not yet. We’ll get there!

There were marshals, in sleek looking surfskis, which did glide effortlessly through the water, to make sure we stayed on course – although our GPS track tells a different story. We didn’t get lost however and after some of the friendly marshals gave us some tips, we improved a lot. The effortless arrow-straight glide across the water is only a few hours of practice away! I do see a few Sundays on Emmerentia Dam in our future. Oh and many more fun Paddling Races come the first Sunday of each month.

Due to a weir across the Vaal below Parys, the water here is completely flat and placid which makes paddling among the islands dotted about the river really pleasant. The extreme, challenging, white-knuckle white-water stuff is for another day. This is a nice, easy and gentle review… I have my eye on a Vagabond Usutu, a whitewater sit-on-top, which is made for that kind of thing.

After a while, the rain which had been threatening, arrived and we got quite soaked. All part of the fun though. Fortunately, the thunder and lightning was sufficiently far off to not be dangerous, but it was a bit of a worry. Out on the trails, I am quite ok with getting wet, but I don’t like the pyrotechnics of an electrical storm.

Well, it took us about an hour to cover the 5k, which I think is not too bad for a start. This is equivalent to walking a parkrun. The aim anyway was not to race. I will restrict my racing to when I have solid ground under my feet.

Having pulled the Mazowe up onto the bank, we all squeezed into the clubhouse to change into dry clothes and drink a steaming flask of life-giving coffee. In better weather, it will be really nice to picnic on the lawns and just relax for a while. There is also a running trail to stretch ones legs on. But this time life beckoned and we had to head back to Joburg all too soon.

I highly recommend the Paddling Race as an easy, friendly way to get started and to whet your appetite for bigger challenges. Life is not always about gruelling, extreme and challenging! And while this is not an advertorial for Vagabond Kayaks, they are really well designed and built craft, which for a small investment, will provide many hours of pleasure.

“Paddling is a wonderful activity for fitness and enjoyment and there are more places to paddle than you’d think, even in our cities.”


Lisa de Speville has created a Google Map called ‘Where to Paddle’  which has information on good paddling sites around South Africa.

To learn more about the Paddling Race and Vagabond Kayaks have a look at where you will find the link to enter for the next Paddling Race on Sunday, 5 May 2019. We’ll be there!

* Paddling Race welcomes every kind of kayak from racing K1s to surfskis, inflatables, recreational kayaks and even stand-up paddleboards (SUPs).

Chris (gently) Reviews The Paddling Race With Vagabond Kayaks

Thanks to:

Lisa de Speville for organising and for information used in this review

Sanet Wilcock for being my Mazowe partner in addition to my life partner

Nutreats for the opportunity to write these reviews

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1 Comment
  • Lisa de Speville
    April, 25, 2019

    Chris, I look forward to seeing you and Sanet back in Parys to paddle

    Zissy and Feige, I hope Chris will twist your arm to come. It will be a treat to have you both here.