Social media power sees Zondi come into Fish River mix | SASCOC - SASCOC

Social media power sees Zondi come into Fish River mix

The brand new K2 crew of Dusi darling Sbonelo Zondi and fishing entrepreneur Brett Bartho is being seen as a serious threat for the title contenders for the 2013 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon later this month.

It’s a combination that would not have come about had it not been for the unique power of social media. Having originally been set up to tackle this year’s edition of the Eastern Cape’s paddling major with his Western Cape-based Breede partner Lance King, Zondi was abruptly thrust into the partnership wilderness when at the last minute King was forced to back-peddle on initial plans due to work commitments.

A partnerless and worried Zondi took to Facebook to see if he could salvage matters. ÔÇ£I was quite worried (when Lance pulled out) because I thought it would be too late for me to find another partner,ÔÇØ explained Zondi. ÔÇ£I wrote on Facebook and I couldn’t believe it when my friends helped link me up with Brett (Bartho)! I was very, very lucky and extremely relieved!ÔÇØ he said.

ÔÇ£The power of social media,ÔÇØ chuckled Bartho, who himself had initially unsuccessfully asked both Brandon van der Walt and his brother, Daryl, if they would pair up with him.

ÔÇ£Danica (Bartho’s wife) is looking to give Fish a good crack this year with Michelle (Burn) so I said I was always going to head down and take part, even if I didn’t manage to find a partner.

ÔÇ£I’d actually entered in a K1 already when a week or so ago I saw I’d been tagged in something on Facebook. Next thing I had a message from Sbonelo on my voicemail so I phoned him back as soon as I could after that and couldn’t believe it when he asked if I was keen to paddle Fish with him.ÔÇØ

Despite having never even sat in a boat together previously, a few pre-race training sessions combined with Zondi’s impeccable form and condition as well as Bartho’s knowledge of the river and sheer power has left the pair (pictured, right) excited for what the hugely popular event may bring.

ÔÇ£I’ve never paddled with Brett before so obviously I was a little bit anxious at first,ÔÇØ said Zondi who much to the dismay of the crowd, narrowly missed out on claiming his maiden Dusi Canoe Marathon title earlier this year ÔÇô despite having led the race for much of the first two and three-quarter days ÔÇô before a last minute spill saw him finish third.

ÔÇ£With it being so last minute I didn’t have any time to think about things anyway, I just had to give it a go but I’m now very excited to paddle with Brett and even though we’re a new combination I am still confident we can do well together.

The mutual respect and excitement continued from Bartho’s side too. ÔÇ£We only jumped into the boat for the first time at the Umzimyathi Pre-Fish Dice last week but we’ve had three or four paddles together since then and we’ve gotten better and better with every paddle.

ÔÇ£Sbonelo is super fit, is coming off a great base from Berg and Avon and its great having him in the back of the boat. Every time I slack off a little I just feel this surge of power coming from him which is incredible! Hopefully we can have a great race together,ÔÇØ added Bartho.

Bartho, somewhat of a Fish absentee over the past few years, is eager to get back to his favourite river race on the calendar and draws a close similarity between this year’s arrangements and those that unfolded ahead of his famous 2004 second place feat with Mike Arthur.

ÔÇ£When Daryl (Bartho’s brother) and I decided to start up our own business ÔÇô Bartho’s Fish Co. ÔÇô a few years ago unfortunately we both had to take the decision to focus on getting our business up and running so the paddling sadly had to take a bit of a back seat for the last few years,ÔÇØ explained Bartho.

ÔÇ£It’s been quite a long break from the Fish for me. I started paddling back in 1999, did my first Fish in 2000 and ever since then I went down every year. It’s always been my favourite race so it will be great to get back down there,ÔÇØ said Bartho.

ÔÇ£2004 was quite a similar situation actually. I’d been sprinting the whole of 2003 and shortly before Fish Mike (Arthur) and I happened to just hop into a double together and it just clicked so at the last minute we decided to do Fish together and ended up coming second!

ÔÇ£This combination with Sbonelo has a very similar feel to it so hopefully we can have a good, clean run and we’ll see how things go from there,ÔÇØ he added.

With many having tipped this year’s field as the most competitive K2 entry the race has ever experienced, Bartho and Zondi will need to draw on every ounce of strength and experience they have if they are to put in a Bartho/Arthur replica performance.

ÔÇ£It is a very strong field this year so I am really looking forward to the challenge. It’s always good to race against lots of top paddlers,ÔÇØ said Zondi. ÔÇ£I’m not sure what Brett is hoping for because he has finished on the podium before and is very strong. I’ve never finished in the top ten at Fish though so that is definitely my goal for this year. Anything more than that will be a bonus!ÔÇØ he added.

Bartho, however, is aiming for a little more. ÔÇ£I think we’re good for a top ten, that’s for sure, however in the back of my mind I think we could possibly even finish on the podium,ÔÇØ he said.

ÔÇ£There are so many other new combinations in the field this year too and, as with all new combinations it’s difficult to relax and avoid making mistakes sometimes so who knows what might happen. I like to be quietly confident and if all goes well I definitely think a top three could be possible,ÔÇØ he added.

Picture: Dave Macleod/Gameplan Media