Former K2 world champion Ant Stott is enthusiastically counting down the days to the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg, billing the event as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for paddling fans in the region.
Winner of the K2 title with Cam Schoeman in the Czech Republic in 1998, Stott is expecting the event to attract big crowds and produce great results for the local paddlers.
"We have become used to the travel but it is always such a disadvantage for the South African paddlers. It's long hours on a plane, then buses and transfers, and there is always the risk of getting sick on the way," says Stott.
"You have to pack away your race boat for a few months before the event to get it shipped over to wherever the event is happening as well!
"Now, many of the paddlers will be able to sleep in their own beds and drive to the venue on the day of the race! That won't happen in our lifetime again," he said.
As an elite paddler who has raced at numerous World Championships in the past Stott says local paddlers get a distinct boost from having local supporters on the banks.
"That hometown advantage is special, as well as the lift you get being cheered on by your friends and supporters at the race. Our guys won't realise just what an advantage that is until they experience it here at Camps Drift," he said.
Stott said that the 25th edition of the marathon world title deciders from 4 to 10 September will be memorable because of the vibe that the venue at Camps Drift is capable of producing.
"We saw it at the KZN Champs, and then when we got to the SA Champs that vibe was significantly stronger. Multiply that ten times and you have a sense of what we can expect from the World Champs, and the atmosphere at Camps Drift should be incredible.
"As a competition venue, it is special because you can see so much of the action from the clubhouse. You have the start and finish right in front of you and you can see all the way down to the bottom turn cans and much of the river straight up to the top turn.
"It is also so accessible being in the centre of the city, so I expect a big crowd to be there on every day of the competition," he added.
"We know what the atmosphere is like at the start of the Dusi, with people lining the banks, and I am sure that the Worlds will top that," said Stott.
"Even if you are not a paddler, it will be worthwhile being there. But for anyone with any interest in canoeing at all, this is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Stott.
The ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships will be held at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg from 8 to 10 September 2017, preceded by the Masters Cup competition.