In April, South Africa’s adventure racing website – www.AR.co.za – turned 10. That’s 10 years of listing events, covering races, posting articles and race reports. In this decade, adventure racing locally has been through many evolutions and generations of racers.
A decade ago the sport of adventure racing (AR) had only been around for two years; the first test race was held at the end of 1998 in Mpumalanga with the first series, the Hi-Tec Old Mutual Adventure Racing Series, launched in 1999 with three events, a 180km, a 250km and a 500km expedition race to wrap up the year. These events were created by Zirk Botha, a former navy captain from Cape Town.
The prize for winning the 1999 and 2000 expedition races was an entry to Southern Traverse in New Zealand. A team with Brandon Collyer, Sandra Eardley, Philip Swanepoel and Sakkie Meyer went in ’99; John Collins and Pieter Du Plessis replaced Philip and Sakkie in 2000. Also in this year, Hano and Sonja Terblanche (she would later marry Hano) with Stephan Muller and Luther Erasmus took part in Eco Challenge Borneo where they placed 33 out of 76 teams.
Internationally, AR was well established. We even got the five by one-hour reality-television shows of Eco Challenge on satellite television (DSTV started in late-1995). I was captivated by Eco Challenge Morocco (1998), Borneo (2000) and New Zealand (2001) as well as the Discovery Channel Adventure Racing World Championships (2001) in Switzerland. These were programmes that made Ian Adamson, John Howard, Kathy Lynch, Nathan Fa’avae, Mike Kloser, Robyn Benincasa, Rebecca Rush and Emma Roca household names – well, in my adventure racing-obsessed household.
It was on the back of this wave of expedition racing excitement that www.AR.co.za was born; created as a central portal for everything adventure racing. The author, AR’s mom, had been racing for two years already and was starved for local news and event listings. Although the site’s focus was local, on the South African community, it immediately gained a strong international following with its adventure racing how-to articles, which are applicable in any country.
The event calendar has always been at the site’s core and 2001 saw the introduction of sprint races through the Dirty Weekend Series and then the Game Sprint Series. New race organisers emerged in Mike Baker, Bradley Wienand and Darron Raw. Indeed, 2001 saw the start of a decade of Swazi Xtreme multiday races. As for the participants, the Collins brothers, Mark and John, as well as Sakkie Meyer, Max Cluer, Phillip Swanepoel, Hano Otto and Stephan Muller were racers always at the front.
Mazda got involved with adventure racing in 2002 to create a series of events, in partnership with Bradley, under their Drifter brand and their Drifter Adventure Zone tv programme.
The second generation
As some first generation racers hung up their trail shoes, the second generation began, bringing in people like Nicholas Mulder, Graham Bird and Tatum Prins. This year also saw Team Mazda Drifter’s fourth place at Eco Challenge Fiji. This dark-horse team of John and Mark Collins, Michelle Lombardi and Phillip Swanepoel really turned the spotlight on South Africa.
By 2003 husband-and-wife teammates Hano and Sonja Otto were married and they began organising events, from sprints to 24-hour races. Hano then took over Zirk’s ‘The African Quest’ expedition race in 2004, holding it in the Eastern Cape in winter. The race is still remembered for the snow and bone-cracking cold. The event’s name changed to Bull of Africa in 2005 and the race took place in the Northern Cape. Many two day events, Swazi Xtreme, Cederberg Challenge, Nguni Adventure and Eden Challenge, were – by now – established calendar fixtures.
Even though expedition racing then got quiet on the local front, South African teams consistently completed in international races.
Participation of South African teams in international races
- Team Outdoor Warehouse Southern Traverse 1999 and 2000
- Team Inala Eco Challenge Borneo 2000
- Team Mazda Eco Challenge Fiji 2002 (4th)
- Team Cyanosis Arctic Team Challenge 2004, Greenland
- Team Mazda Raid the North Extreme 2004, Canada (5th)*
- Team Jabberwock Arctic Team Challenge 2005, Greenland
- Team Energy & Team Cyanosis Southern Traverse 2005, New Zealand
- Team Mad Scientists Patagonia Expedition Race 2006, Chile
- Teams Cyanosis & McCain Adventure Addicts Primal Quest Utah 2006, USA
- McCain Adventure Addicts Wilderness ARC 2007, Scotland*
- · Team Cyanosis Portugal XPD 2007 (5th), 2008 (5th) and 2009* (22nd)
- McCain Adventure Addicts EcoMotion 2008, Brazil (9th) *
- Team Kinetic XPD Australia 2008
- Merrell Adventure Addicts Bimbache Extrem 2009, Spain (4th)
- Team Cyanosis (13th) & Merrell Adventure Addicts (14th) Bimbache Extrem 2010, Spain*
- Team www.AR.co.za in 2008, 2009 and joined by Team Mzansi and Team Cyanosis in 2010 Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge
- Merrell Adventure Addicts XPD Australia 2010 (2nd)
- Team Red Ants Tierra Viva AR Argentina 2011 (4th)
* AR World Championship events
The short and long of it
The mid-2000’s brought numerous sprint and short-distance races as well as staged mountain bike, multisport and other such events on to the market – all competing for a similar entrant. Unfortunately this detrimentally affected distance (>150km) adventure race participation and many events offered were cancelled due to too few entries. The cost of presenting multiday and expedition races was also a limiting factor.
The Bull returned in 2008 with a very successful event in the Eastern Cape. This the last Bull event and a second local expedition racing hiatus would begin, until Expedition Africa in May 2011, organised by racers-turned-organisers Heidi and Stephan Muller.
Now, in 2011, ten years after www.AR.co.za was launched, the local adventure racing community is thriving; with thanks, in part, to the two years of hard work by the Mullers with their Kinetic Adventure, Full Moon, Double Moon and now Expedition Africa events. They have especially made an impact in Gauteng where participation numbers have increased across all distances.
Our top teams, who now have five or more years of international racing experience, are competitive abroad; they can always be expected to have a good showing. Indeed, this year’s adventure racing World Championships, hosted by XPD Australia in Tasmania in November, is set to be a humdinger with teams Cyanosis, Merrell Adventure Addicts and Painted Wolf – with the Collins brothers making a comeback- on the start line.
In 10 years the local scene has not as much grown – people stop racing, others start – as improved. We race harder, faster and more competitively than we did in the ‘early days’. Certainly, upper mid-field teams now would give winning teams of old a good challenge.
My prediction for the next decade is that we’ll see more South African teams venturing abroad to race – not necessarily to be competitive, but for exotic racing experiences. Our competitive teams want one thing – podium placings – and they’ll train harder to get there. But even more exciting is that the stage is set, with Expedition Africa’s evolution, to welcome foreign teams to our country.
Here’s to another decade – hip-hip-hooray!
Author: Lisa de Speville | Published in Go Multi Magazine, July/Aug 2011. Vol 15.3