Berg River Marathon

Irishman David Horkan was in Antarctica when he was named as Ireland’s Adventure Paddler of the Year. Image: Supplied by David Horkan /
Gameplan Media

Irish adventurer faces Springbok-sized challenge at Berg River Marathon

Irish professional canoeist David Horkan faces a task as daunting as his rugby compatriots when he tackles the 2024 Berg River Canoe Marathon on July 3-6. The 2023 Irish Adventure Paddler of the year is expecting to complete the tough four-day canoe marathon from Paarl to Velddrif on the same day the Ireland rugby squad […]

Berg River Marathon

Irishman David Horkan was in Antarctica when he was named as Ireland’s Adventure Paddler of the Year. Image: Supplied by David Horkan /
Gameplan Media

Irish professional canoeist David Horkan faces a task as daunting as his rugby compatriots when he tackles the 2024 Berg River Canoe Marathon on July 3-6.

The 2023 Irish Adventure Paddler of the year is expecting to complete the tough four-day canoe marathon from Paarl to Velddrif on the same day the Ireland rugby squad tackle the Springboks in the First Test in Pretoria – and Horkan is well aware his challenge is as big as the one facing his rugby compatriots.

Irishman wants to test himself against the best

“South Africa is known world wide as a hotspot for canoeing and producing world class paddlers,” said the former European Championship medalist this week from Ireland, where he is training before heading to Cape Town to finish preparation for next month’s Berg River Canoe Marathon.

“The standard at the Berg reflects the standard of South African paddling – you only need to look at the results over the years and its often a world champion that wins the race.

“I’d be delighted to get into the top ten, but I’ve no real idea until I get into the mix and racing on day one. Getting to the start line fit and getting to the finish are always the two main priorities. A good result is a bonus.”

When it was pointed he will be competing on the same day the Irish rugby side face the Springboks, Horkan laughed and added he was hoping for some reflected glory after the match.

“I can deal with getting beaten on the river by South Africa’s top guns, but I’ll have to hope the rugby boys in green will get payback for me on the pitch. That might give me some bragging rights afterwards.”

Horkan is well known as an adventure canoeist with some spectacular trips under his belt – he won the 2023 Adventure Paddler of the year from Canoeing Ireland, but was unable to physically accept the award because he was paddling in Antarctica at the time – but he is also an impressive ultra-distance racer

Berg River Marathon to take paddler out of comfort zone

In 2022 the Irishman won the K1 category in the 200km Devizes to Westminister and finished second overall in a K2 in 2023. He is also a regular among the leading positions in the race that is billed as the “longest non-stop canoe race in the world” and referred to by the organisers as “Canoeist’s Everest”.

“The Berg has to be up there with the best and most challenging of them all,” said the European Marathon Championship medalist. “Its taken me a few years to commit to it as it is during our summer, but this year it made sense with my schedule.

“I’ve been well warned about the river and its trees, potential blockages, headwinds and even getting lost. The organisers have been fantastic with information and I made a point of chatting to many of the South African paddlers who came to the Liffey Descent this year.

“Training has been great so far. It is a little unusual to be doing this much volume and long paddles at this time of year for me – usually I’d be finished with this training by April. Getting time on moving water is a problem as the rivers are getting to summer levels here now, but in a typically unpredictable Irish summer, its unusually cold at the moment, so I shouldn’t notice the change to SA winter.”

Competing in green

Some of Horkan’s expenses have been sponsored by a local South African company and he will paddle in the Euro Steel team colours, in a Kayak Craft boat built by veteran canoe manufacturer Ric Whitton.

Somewhat ironically, with the Springboks playing Ireland on the same weekend as the Berg River Marathon, the Irishman will be paddling a boat which Whitton coincidentally made in the colours of green and gold.

Additional copy from Gameplan Media; Written by Tim Whitfield