Sunday, December 19, 2010

Medial release: Female-dominated team home after Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge

The fourth annual Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge (ADAC) proved to be the toughest edition yet with longer legs, tight stage cut-offs and unseasonably hot conditions in the Liwa Desert. Over six days, Team covered around 400km in the disciplines of running, mountain biking, canyoneering, sea kayaking and desert trekking to place 39th in the field of 49 teams from 18 countries.
Lizelle Smit, Lisa de Speville, Lizelle van der Merwe and Steven Erasmus
“This year’s race was tough,” says Team’s captain Lisa de Speville. This was her third consecutive Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge leading a relatively young and inexperienced team.

“The first four days were crazy! From the moment the prologue – a fast-paced multidiscipline sprint around the city’s main beachfront - started we seemed to rush from one leg to the next; sprinting on bikes, running flat-out, commuting in buses to new locations, setting up camp, eating, sleeping and then up again – once at 2:30am – for the next stage’s start.” When Day 5’s sea-kayaking stage was cancelled due to high winds and unsafe conditions in the Gulf, many teams welcomed this unexpected day of leisure. The final sea kayak stage on Day 6 was shortened to 35km confined to the protected beach-front bay as conditions outside remained turbulent and unsafe.

South Africa’s adventure racing website,, receives a race entry – plus flights - from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority to bring a team to the event. The only condition is that the team, bar one member, must have no international experience. Taking this a step further, de Speville selects the team members for their relative inexperience in the sport. The months of preparation and the race itself serve to bolster their skills and add to their adventure racing competence with a view to seeing each member contribute their experience to build stronger and more competitive teams locally.

In this team sport where mixed-gender teams are usually three-men-and-one-woman in format, female-dominated teams are unusual. “I decided on this composition because it is rare – and a first for me. Also, we need more female racers with experience to complement local teams,” says de Speville. Team’s members included Lizelle ‘Zelle’ Smit, Lizelle van der Merwe and Steven Erasmus.

“Zelle and Lizelle have only been racing for a year so they encountered many firsts at ADAC,” says de Speville. They found the canyoneering especially challenging with its sharp rocks and steep, roped descents, which required constant clipping on and off safety lines. “I always joke that canyoneering, which we call kloofing in South Africa, is fun for the first hour, interesting for the next and thereafter you can’t wait to get to the end because it is physically and mentally demanding; you’ve got to be alert with every step,” de Speville explains. “After this, any other ropes sections they encounter in races will seem child’s play.” It took the team more than four hours to complete the technical 1200m descent.

“Steven was the best ‘guy’ a female-dominated team could wish for,” says de Speville. “The dynamic of a girly team is quite different and he adapted with ease. In addition to being a good all-rounder in the race disciplines, he is easy going and even natured.”

A journalist at the race asked de Speville whether she thinks that female-dominated teams will become more common. “Nah, I don’t,” she says. “Adventure racing is a male-dominated sport and there are so many teams looking for good female racers. Also, within traditional teams, men carry most of the equipment load, which makes fast-paced racing easier for women who are physically smaller; it’s no picnic carrying backpacks as heavy as the men’s when you’re 20kg lighter and trying to race at the same pace.”

“But,” de Speville adds, “a ‘girly’ team can be a supportive environment that may encourage more female participation in the sport.” Too often women new to the sport are put off racing because they doubt their abilities and don’t want to always be the one slowing down their team. It is daunting to join a strong team where you go in knowing you’re just not as fast. A female-dominated team gives women the opportunity to gain experience, without pressure, and the confidence to move into stronger traditional teams. This format also encourages women to take on navigator and ‘workhorse’ roles, which are commonly fulfilled by men. “I believe that it is very important for women to realise their value to their teams; they are not just compulsory X-chromosome contributors or there to boost morale. Women are able to hold their own in this sport that favours endurance and mental strength,” she says.

De Speville also comments that there’s a big difference between an inexperienced team like hers and an experienced female-dominated team. “A few years back there was an incredibly strong and competitive Spanish women’s team; they were always up at the front at major international races. I’d like to see another such team surface again.”

“I am really pleased with our result,” says de Speville. “To place 39th in this ultra-strong field is a good achievement and I hope that with this notch in their belt Zelle, Lizelle and Steven will go on to greater accomplishments locally and internationally.”

Two other South African teams competed at ADAC. Team Cyanosis placed an impressive 18th; Team Inov-8 Mzansi finished 33rd.

For more information on the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, visit

For information on the sport of adventure racing in South Africa, as well as news from the race, visit

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Some photos

On the bus from the hotel to the start. Naughty photo bomber in the background ;)

Waiting for the prologue to start

Latter part of the canyoneering descent. Steven at the top, then Lizelle, then Zelle.

Zelle on ropes. She wasn't a happy puppy here but really did so well - her first encounter with a crazy ropes section.

Steven loving the canyoneering

Lizelle making her way steadily down - also a first time encounter for her

Zelle scrambling down some smooth rocks - they're pretty slippy. See the top in the background? We were up there a few hours earlier!

A small section - quite vertical - towards the bottom of the descent.
One of the ropes guides in the pic with Lizelle and Steven

My favourite desert photo ;) Saw this written inn the sand on the second day of desert trekking. It was seriously hot and we'd just climbed up loads of dunes.

Our beacxh camp on Day 5 - wind howling in Mirfa. It came up in the wee hours of morning and persisted all day. The beach looked like a squatter camp.

The start of the last day -  a looped paddle in the protected 'bay' between Lulu Island and the Corniche beachfront.

Team at the prize giving ceremony

Team Mzansi at the prize giving function - Jane, Alex, Alan, Tim (pics of Cyanosis not on my camera)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Invincible Kiwis crowned again

Abu Dhabi - THULE ADVENTURE TEAM (NZL), with Richard USSHER at the helm, romp to a 4th straight win at the end of the final kayaking stage held on the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Richard USSHER, Elina USSHER, Nathan FA'AVAE and Marcel HAGENER once again dominated the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge from start to finish, winning every stage in the race for the first time ever with an overall race time of 45h44’47” Whether it was negotiating the rope works on the Jebel Hafeet, biking and running through the Rub’ al Kahli desert or kayaking on the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf, THULE ADVENTURE TEAM (NZL) displayed a level of power and competitive ability far superior to that of any potential challengers.

“Winning four in a row and then winning every stage for the first time is really fantastic,” declared an elated Richard USSHER at the finishing line. This is really our strongest line-up and, with Marcel in the team again, we have the same team as last year but fitter and better prepared. The time of year is also ideal, allowing us focus completely on this one race.”

This morning, before the start of the final 33 km sea-kayaking stage held between Lulu Island and the Corniche Beach, the Kiwis already led second place THULE EUROPE (FRA) by 1h20’. The French nevertheless fought to the end to protect their second place, starting the stage with only a 10-minute buffer between themselves and Suisse team WENGER. Ultimately, these powerful paddlers led by Jacky BOISSET consolidated their second place (47h08’08”), with the second fastest time of the day.

"We did what we could to deal with Richard’s team but they were, once again, too strong. Every day on every section, we lost a few minutes to them and during the desert stage we came very close to dropping out; we were at the end of our tether. This first place still eludes us so we will be back for sure next year," said team captain Jacky BOISSET. Suisse team WENGER (SUI), not known for their kayaking skills, still managed 15th fastest time of the day, holding onto 3rd place in the process.

Final Top 5 ADAC 2010

1 Thule Adventure Team (NZL) 45h44’47”

2 Thule Adventure Team/Europe (FRA) 47h08’08”

3 Wenger (SUI) 47h39’01”

4 Adidas Terrex (GBR) 48h25’15”

5 Team Net Competence (SWE) 49h19’11”

Live race coverage and information at

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Social Day

It's been a super social day. Nice to hang out with old friends and new.

We've just had dinner with Cyanosis and Mzansi - lots of ragging each other and laughs.

Everybody agrees that the organisation here has been friggin unbelievable. When the wind came up this morning in the wee hours they put Plan B into play. Trucks came to collect the kayaks and take them to Abu for tomorrows paddle.  They organised dinner for us (we would have been self sufficient on the island tonight). They also needed to arrange permits for a change in the paddle tomorrow. Communication with the racers is regular and we are always kept in the loop. Real good

Yesterday too when so many teams like us were diverted from the last checkpoint to the camp site in Mirfa, they arranged buses to pick us up in the dunes(gave us GPS co-ords for a pick up 3km away over the dunes). On the bus we got huge boxes with dinner for the trip and more dinner when we got here! On day 2 after the canyons we were given a packet with water, apple and banana. Always enough water. Very well organised and considerate of the racers needs.

So yesterday we trek 3km over the dunes from CP6 to a waiting bus. There must have been about 5 or 6 teams together(there were more still out there who had not yet made the CP). We hit the road and a normal size big bus is there. We were probably the 4th team to get on. We find seats, spread out and take shoes off. Mzansi are the last team on. Tim tries to tell the driver that they are the last team on and that he can go. The driver signals using hand signs and broken english that he is almost off work - tapping his watch. He drives down the hill about 300m and there are 2 smaller event buses(about 24 seater) and one event guy who flags our bus down. The driver stops and we all get off and onto the correct buses.

Turns out we had caught a random bus, probably for some workers out there. How crazy is that! Dirty smelly AR'ers climbing onto this dudes bus and he let us. Wonder what would have happened if the event buses had not been there. Where would he have driven us to? Nearest shower perhaps? We got lots of laughs from this one.

The bus leaves here for Abu at 5am tomorrow. Race starts at 9am. Teams will be finishing between 3pm and 4pm. We will only get maps in the morning.  The max distance including OP's will be around 40km.

Wind is still blowing. Friggin sand flying everywhere in the tent. Going to be buried in the morning. There is just no keeping it out.

Media release: High winds stall race...

Al Mirfa – Strong winds blowing along the Arabian Gulf Coast have forced organizers to cancel today’s sea-kayaking section.

Today, the 47 teams still in contention on the 2010 ADAC benefited from an unexpected pause in the proceedings. During the night, as the teams slept at the bivouac on Al Mirfa beach, high winds whipped the sea into a heavy swell to the extent that the long section of sea kayaking between Mirfa and Abu Dhabi, due to start at 06:30 this morning, was canceled for safety reasons.

As a consequence, the teams will be spending an extra day in Al Mirfa, taking advantage of this unexpected break to deal with any minor injuries incurred over the last four days of competition and to replenish depleted energy levels. Some teams, especially those with strong paddlers and hopes of achieving their fastest times on this stage, were visibly frustrated but all agreed the unexpected weather conditions precluded any water-based activities.

The race will resume again at 09:00 tomorrow morning on one of two possible routes available to the organization, the choice of which will depend on prevailing weather conditions. The race then reaches its grand finale when the first teams are expected to cross the finishing line in Abu Dhabi at around 15:00.

Live race coverage and information at

Cyanosis & in FA gear

Race stopped

As you probably know by now, the race is stopped. The wind is crazy and the sea is mad.

We are spending our day on the beach socialising and lounging around. Divine! That was missing for me so am enjoying meeting peeps.

We stay here tonight then on to Abu Dhabi early in the morning. It's a 9am start to do a paddle loop. The wind is no longer howling here now. Hope it will be super weather because we put so much time and preparation into our paddling.

For now a nap. Then more socialising.