Graeme Solomon, the Western Cape’s premier canoeist since the early 1990’s, was introduced to the sport by his father Eric, an endurance marathon runner of the Comrades, Two Oceans and many other running races and as a member of the Peninsula Canoe Club, also a Berg River and Breede River marathon paddler. So the young Graeme was introduced to canoeing from a tender age.

Under the wise guidance of his father, the precocious talent that the youngster was showing as a teenager was tempered

with respect to the Cape’s premier canoeing event, the Berg River canoe marathon, the older Solomon reckoning that the younger Solomon would in time make his mark there. How correct he was!

Not that canoeing as a teenager in the Cape was easy for Solomon, who, being schooled at the prestigious SACS senior boys school in Newlands, was (in those days) expected to take part in the traditional games the school offered – i.e. rugby during the winter (canoeing) season. Showing the tough streak that has garnered him many awards, Solomon opted for canoe racing on Saturday mornings, rather than playing rugby or supporting the 1st XV, even if it meant a weekly trip on Monday mornings to the Headmaster’s study to be caned (it was allowed back then!).

Things changed when he won his Junior National colours in the early 1990’s before going on to win his first Senior South African Canoeing blazer, when he was selected as part of the sprint team that competed in the World Canoe Sprint Championships in Mexico in 1994. In his own words, SACS suddenly recognized that one of ‘theirs’ was an international sporting star in ascendency and attitudes there changed rapidly for the better, his name beginning to appear on the school’s honours board of International sportsmen, where it has been virtually every year since.

This year, as a Sub Veteran (i.e. a Masters age category – 35 – 39 years), Solomon has once again been chosen to represent

South African as a Senior Open paddler at an international canoeing event – the World Canoe Marathon Championships to be held in Spain from 22nd to 26th September. Solomon, chosen to partner KZN’s Ant Stott (who at previous World Canoe Marathon Championships has won bronze – K1, singles in 2006, gold – K2, doubles, in 2008 and silver – K2, doubles, in 2009), now stands amongst those most elite of world canoeists who will be seriously challenging for a podium place in Spain in September.

The modest Solomon, a long-time resident in the Marina da Gama (the ideal place for any canoeist to reside!) has a number of prestigious S.A. titles to his name – to name a few: the Berg River, Breede River and the Fish River canoe marathons – as well as multiple selections for South Africa as both a sprint and a marathon canoeist since the 1994. He is the successful owner/manager of a company that produces fibre-glass products and has recently branched out (pun intended!) in the Bamboo wood industry as an importer/exporter – ladies, you’ll be interested to know that the man is still a bachelor, although he does have a special paddling girlfriend as his number one supporter!

 Rob MacLean – fellow South African teammate in World Canoe Champs

Unlike Graeme Solomon, who started paddling his teens, the prime time for any athlete, MacLean was only attracted to the sport in early 1985 when he was in his mid-30’s.

Just a few months after moving to Marina da Gama, he tried his hand at canoeing when he took part in a triathlon that included a paddling rather than a swimming ’leg’ – and he enjoyed it. Also, at about the same time, a neighbour, who was the then Chairman of Peninsula Canoe Club, was derogatory about MacLean’s chosen sports at the time – surfing and windsurfing – and so in an attempt to make said Chairman eat his words, MacLean ‘took up his paddles’! And, in his own words, he“has never looked back”, primarily because of the wonderful people whom he has been surrounded by since starting to paddle and the opportunities it has given him in the years since. Paddling has taken him to Europe, South America, mainland China and throughout all of southern Africa. So, he often thinks of and thanks that PCC Chairman for the challenge!

Starting at the relatively advanced age of 34 years meant that he did not have the opportunity to compete in the Senior (Open) competition categories of the sport as it takes time to learn the skills required. But with the opening up of Masters’ canoeing categories from the late 1980’s (all based on 5 year age groupings), he has made selection into the S.A. (Masters) Canoe Marathon team several times since, the latest being in 2010,. His best results at World Championships have been gold medals in 1998 and 2009 and a bronze in 1999. Although he struggled with injuries – all paddling related – between 2001 and 2006, he has also had successes in races such as the Breede, Fish and Umkomaas river marathons, emerging as winner in his age category on several occasions in all of these events.

Still living in Marina da Gama 26 years on – “where else, being a paddler?” – MacLean is married to Sandy, a pharmacist

and an excellent canoeing second! They have two children – 23 year old Shannon, a final year Mechanical Engineering student at U.C.T. and 18 year old Iain, a matric scholar at Wynberg Boy’s High School – both good paddlers in their own right. Shannon requested a canoe for her 4th birthday and Iain took it over when he turned 3! Both currently work on the Orange River as river guides during their vacations. Shannon has started canoeing again this season after shelving it for hockey and gymnastics during her school years, whilst Iain put paddling on the backburner after dominating his sub-junior canoeing age-group to focus on cricket, hockey, downhill cycling and water polo, but has intimated his interest in getting back into a canoe again.

MacLean also keeps his hand in with the administration of the sport of canoeing – he has been the Media Liaison person for the Western Cape Canoe Union since 1999, has been a member of the Exco.of the W.C.C.U. and the Peninsula Canoe Club and recently has been instrumental in introducing a number of scholars from Paul Roos Gymnasium (MacLean is on the staff there) to canoeing with the Stellenbosch Canoe Club. He is also his canoe club’s River Proficiency instructor, this being part of his way of giving back a ‘little something’ to a sport that has become such an integral part of his and his family’s life.

The above two articles were submitted by Rob MacLean.