South African veteran paddler and Berg River Canoe Marathon icon Giel van Deventer is reportedly missing and presumed to have drowned while taking part in a race on the Breede River on Saturday.
Van Deventer, 72, was paddling in a K2 with Lodewyk Rabie when they ran into trouble in a tree-block close to the race finish outside Swellendam and he disappeared underwater, the Berg River group said in a statement, as per African Insider.
“Race officials and police divers searched until dusk to try and locate him, without success, and returned on Sunday morning. The level of the already full Breede River had risen overnight making conditions for the search very difficult.
“It is now presumed that he has drowned. The search is ongoing,” reports quoted the statement.
Van Deventer held the record for most number of finishes in the tough Berg River Canoe Marathon, becoming the first person to earn fifty medals in 2021, and added another finish to his remarkable Berg CV in July this year.
“This tragedy has left a huge hole in Western Cape and South African canoeing,” said Canoeing South Africa president Kim Pople.
“Giel was a trailblazer, both on the Berg River Canoe Marathon and as a leading light in the masters paddling community.
“His contribution off the water as a diligent and thorough statistician who kept track of every single paddler’s results in major events like the Berg and the Fish was remarkable,” she said.
In another statement on Monday, the Berg River group said that for many years, Van Deventer was one of the paddlers willing to spend long hours traversing sections of the upper river with a saw in his boat, cutting away tree-blocks and obstructions in the river.
“Off the water, his passion for the race combined with his fascination for statistics saw his produce many spreadsheets of statistics, including the definitive record of every single Berg final since the race’s inception in 1962.
“Van Deventer’s quick, impish grin masked a tough determination and perseverance. He raced the 1987 Berg four days after a hernia operation and completed the race in pain after repeatedly dealing with complications at each stage of the race.
“Even a stroke in his later years didn’t deter him, and he adapted his boat choices, paddling style and racing expectations to enable him to continue paddling on the Berg River,” read the statement.
Our thoughts and prayers are with van Deventer’s loved ones.
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