River Canoe Marathon Media Release
23 May 2022
: Dave Macleod
Prof van Rooyen ready for a fifteenth Berg
Paarl - When the field of paddlers leaves at the start of the
2022 Berg River Canoe Marathon on 6 July, Stellenbosch
University Professor Johan van Rooyen will be eagerly looking
forward to what will be his fifteenth Berg medal.
While living in KwaZulu-Natal his sporting passion started with
running, and after earning his green number for completing ten
Comrades Marathons, into his forties he tried his hand at
paddling, taking on the local iconic events like the Dusi and
the Umkomaas marathons.
“Then I heard about the toughest four day K1 river race on the
planet and headed down to the Cape in 1991 with my trusty
Assegai canoe,” he recalls.
“It was very different from the warm, brown, rocky KZN rivers
and big rapids. It started with a march through Paarl on a cold,
dark winters day, and helpings of wine sponsored by KWV,” he
“Then onto the fast flowing icy waters! The river was flooded
that year with massive bluegum tree blocks all over and swirlies
and gangetjies. There were many swims too and the adrenaline
just kept pumping.
“On the exciting second day I followed the ‘hardebaarde’ like a
shadow. The long Day Three was done in glorious sunshine with no
wind and green countryside. We slept in farm barns next to the
river, with many other paddlers. KWV had their tents there. I
was hooked on the Berg Experience!” he said.
The evergreen 74 year old Professor Extra Ordinaire at
Stellenbosch University's Agribusiness and Agricultural
Economics department says that the allure of the tough 240km
four-day paddle from Paarl to Velddrif pulls him back every
“What brings me back? Well as Malory said when asked about
Everest ‘Because it is there’” he muses. “There are three things
that bring me back every year.
“The challenge of facing all the earth elements together in one
race. The rain and that North West wind, the cold, flowing,
swirling waters, the treacherous tree blocks and tricky
gangetjies - all these make it a unique and adrenaline pumping
endeavour par excellence and really something to accomplish by
“Then there is the Berg camaraderie,” he says “It builds over a
long time- early morning trips with your mates, sharing river
knowledge over a fire, caring for each on the water, and of
course the seconds are an integral part of the team.
“Finally it is a unique journey through the beautiful winter
landscape,” he added. “Sometimes on days you can see forever -
green wheat fields and snow on the mountains. But take care,
around the next bend there could perhaps be a swirly or
gangetjie to catch you unawares!”
For Van Rooyen his love of paddling centres on the group of
friends who make up the Maties Turbo Toppies.
“They are so inspirational and supportive,” he says. “Sometimes
I even think I am doing it just to be with them.”
“I also had some real paddling adventures with my paddling sons
Inus and Francois and swaer Willie Lemmer.”
Van Rooyen’s journey as a paddler has been shared with the
people who have loyally seconded him along the way.
“Always Elba, my wife, and kids and grandkids,” says van Rooyen.
”Theuns Stoffberg was our first Berg second- what a joll that
was to have a Springbok captain as your second. Francois
Loedolf’s daughter Gina has been a real super second. More
recently the always keen Paul and Ernst. Capable and
resourceful, even when the organisers want to pull you off the
Van Rooyen deflects the attention that he will get as he heads
for the milestone fifteen Berg finish, but says he is looking
forward to one particular quirky form of recognition.
“The event in itself is always significant, not the number,” he
says “It is rather the training, tripping, getting to know the
river again, and the camaraderie, which you have to do to
eventually complete the race.
“But a 15th Berg will put my name on a particular buoy on the
famous Matie dammetjie! Now that will be fun!!” he concluded
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Canoe Marathon logo - JPeg
landscape - JPeg
Johan van Rooyen will set off on his fifteenth Berg River Canoe
Marathon in July.
Johan van Rooyen's first Berg in 1991. "There
were many swims too and the adrenaline just kept pumping," he
Van Rooyen credits
the camaraderie from the Maties Turbo Toppies for much of his
motivation to come back every year to race the Berg.
“It is the training, tripping, getting to know the river again,
and the camaraderie, which you have to do to eventually complete
the race, that brings you back every year," says Van Rooyen.
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