The ancient mode of transportation of canoeing has evolved into a much-loved sport, jam-packed with thrilling adventures with thousands of enthusiasts partaking in it, and Namibians are not an exemption.
The canoe sport is widely practiced in Namibia, despite the dry, arid weather conditions in the country. Windhoek’s Goreangab Dam, the Okavango River and the Kunene River are just some of the many platforms canoeing can be experienced at in Namibia. The Kunene experience combines the adrenaline of the sport with the contrast of river and desert and has plenty of sightseeing.
The sport was introduced to Namibia in 1996 when Pierre Dall, the canoe president of the Canoe, Rowing and Dragon Boat Association at that time, saw a picture of a paddler in a boat with a ball and decided to start digging deep into the sport. Canoe- polo is the full name of the sport.
Canoeing is a sport which involves paddling a canoe with a single-bladed paddle. The main form of competitive sport is sprint canoe. Others include canoe polo, white-water canoeing, canoe marathon, ICF canoe marathon, and play-boating.
“In 1998 we sent our first men team to the World Champs in Portugal and we were only a group of six instead of the required eight. We ended 14 out of 18 countries. That was our first international game in Europe. Before that, we participated in South Africa in the World Championship on the Breëde River where 36 countries participated, and Pierre Dall took tenth place and I ended eleventh in the 42km marathon,” Anton Jacobie, Vice President of the Association said, sharing his memories.
In a canoe, the paddler either kneels on the bottom of the boat or sits on a raised seat. Another recreational form of canoeing is canoe camping.
Jacobie said at the time when canoeing was introduced in Namibia, the City Of Windhoek warned them that the water at the Goreangab Dam was medically unfit for any water sport like canoe marathon, which left them with the nearest dam from Windhoek which was about 50km away, ways too far for daily practice.
On the popularity of the canoeing in Namibia, Jacobie said it gets better with time, adding that the association is doing its best to take the sport to every spot of water in the country but money and Government support through the Namibia Sport Commission is a very big problem. The association started a big development group in Rehoboth but progress is very slow, mainly because funding is limited.
“In canoeing you have to pay for yourself. The trip to Italy cost N$62 000 per paddler. Karl Jacobie from Namibia was in Durban during April this year for the African Sprints and he is now invited by the International Canoe Federation to the Junior World Cup in Belarus in July, and in August must be in Italy for the Polo World Cup. He needs to have NS146 000 to travel to the venues,”
To master the sport during the championships, one has to practice at least twice a day and cover up to 30km canoeing daily. Windhoek currently has the biggest canoe club followed by Rehoboth at Lake Oanob. Tsumeb also has a club and the association is busy implementing canoeing clubs in Swakopmund and Walvisbay.
The training routine for clubs in Windhoek and Tsumeb consists of practices of up to 4 times a week while at Rehoboth the kids practice 5 to 7 days. The association has two German volunteers who are helping the kids with rowing, and during August a canoe polo volunteer will help develop canoe polo.
“Sponsorships for canoe development, canoe trips and International events come from individuals and the association. West Air helps with the canoe polo team who will participate in the World Championships later this year in Italy. Money is the biggest challenge but if we can enough money we can take the sport to all water locations. Kavango River and Keetmanshoop are high on the agenda for development, however the water situation is a big challenge,” Jacobie said.
Canoeing enthusiasts are advised to be considerate and respectful to their fellow paddlers, respect the freshwater and marine environment and follow safety recommendations but most of all they must ensure to be seen as a welcomed visitor to enjoy an unforgettable canoe experience.