SPAR River Festival From 1924 To The Present

SPAR River Festival From 1924 To The Present

The first SPAR Redhouse River Mile (now called the SPAR River Festival) was held in South Africa in 1924.

The visionary of the event, AE Murrell presented a handsome cup with the idea that the race should be for open water swimmers and emphasis should be on the team concept and not on individuals.

But the first swimmer across the finish is still celebrated and becomes the River Champion and the first five men from any one club become the Champion team. The precedent was set that a minimum team of five and a maximum team of 10 may enter from any club.

The local Redhouse Swimming Club won the inaugural race in 1924 with Roy Gregory the first man home to become the first River Champion.

Redhouse teams continued to be successful in this event for many years and won the cup 14 times.

In 1924, the first race had 44 of the 48 men completed the swim. The Ladies quarter-mile race, later replaced by the Ladies Mile race, was first held in 1932 when Ethel Smith was the winner in 6 minutes 27 seconds. In 1948, a 12-year-old Olympic swimmer Joan Harrison won in 6 minutes 10.3 seconds.

Over the following years, the winners have been as follows:

1924 Roy Gregory (man) Redhouse (team)
1925 Geoff Phillip (man) Redhouse (team)
1926 Ary Snetler (man) Uitenhage (team)
1927 “Doc” McWilliams (man) Redhouse (team)
1928 “Doc” McWilliams (man) Redhouse (team)
1929 Ary Snetler (man) Redhouse (team)
1930 Ary Snetler (man) Redhouse (team)
1931 “Doc” McWilliams (man) Redhouse (team)
1932 “Doc” McWilliams (man) Redhouse (team)
1933 H Hammond (man) Uitenhage (team)
1934 D McDowell (man) Institute (team)
1935 Otto Schweltzer (man) Redhouse (team)
1936 Peter Elliot (man) Redhouse (team)
1937 Peter Elliot (man) Redhouse (team)
1938 Otto Schweltzer (man) Redhouse (team)
1939 R Cherrington (man) Redhouse (team)
1940 D Walker (man) East London (team)
1941 No event due to War
1942 No event due to War
1943 No event due to War
1944 No event due to War
1945 No event due to War
1946 Peter Elliot (man) Uitenhage (team)
1947 Peter Elliot (man) Uitenhage (team)
1948 Albert Boliter (man) Uitenhage (team)
1949 Ernie Nicholson (man) Uitenhage (team)
1950 Ernie Nicholson (man) Uitenhage (team)
1951 Ernie Nicholson (man) Uitenhage (team)
1952 Derek Staples (man) Port Elizabeth (team)
1953 Peter Schulze (man) Port Elizabeth (team)
1954 Derek Staples (man) Port Elizabeth (team)
1955 Derek Staples (man) Port Elizabeth (team)
1956 Derek Staples (man) Port Elizabeth (team)
1957 Derek Staples (man Uitenhage (team)
1958 Francois Mai (man) ? 1959 Derek Staples (man) Redhouse (team)
1960 Geoff Grylls (man) Institute (team)
1961 Geoff Grylls (man) Redhouse (team)
1962 Geoff Grylls (man) Institute (team)
1963 Geoff Grylls (man) Institute (team)
1964 Geoff Grylls (man) Institute (team)
1965 Geoff Grylls (man) Institute (team)
1966 Brian Elliot (man) Institute (team)
1967 Brian Elliot (man) Institute (team)
1968 Geoff Bolton (man) Redhouse (team)
1969 Brian Elliot (man) Barracuda (team)
1970 Brian Elliot (man) Barracuda (team)
1971 David Stones (man) Barracuda(team)
1972 Derek Elliot (man) Barracuda (team)
1973 Derek Elliot (man) Barracuda (team)
1974 Peter Horwitz (man) Barracuda (team)
1975 Brett Bugler (man) East London (team)
1976 Andre Kotze (man) PEA (team)
1977 Brett Bugler (man) East London (team)
1978 Mark Edge (man) Aquabear (team)
1979 Kevin Richards (man) Aquabear (team)
1980 Kevin Richards (man) Aquabear (team)
1981 Kevin Richards (man) Aquabear (team)
1982 Kevin Richards (man) Aquabear (team)
1983 Sean Mulvey (man) Aquabear (team)
1984 Kevin Richards (man) Aquabear (team)
1985 Jacques Coetzer (man) PEA (team)
1986 Anthony Aubin (man) Aquabear (team)
1987 Kevin Richards (man) Belinda McFadzean (woman) Aquabear (male team) Aquabear (female team)
1988 Jacques Coetzer (man) Chantal Tutton (woman) Aquabear (male team) Aquabear (female team)
1989 Andrew Turner (man) Nicki Hutchison (woman) Aquabear (male team) PEA (female team)
1990 Andrew Turner (man) Nicki Hutchison (woman) PEA (male team) PEA (female team)
1991 Pierre de Roulbaix (man) Amanda Grendon (woman) Aquabear (male team) PEA (female team)
1992 Pierre de Roulbaix (man) Amanda Grendon (woman) Aquabear (male team) PEA (female team)
1993 Greg Kahn (man) Jeanine Steenkamp (woman) Aquabear (male team) PEA (female team)
1994 Ryk Neethling (man) Karen Allers (woman) PEA (male team) Aquabear (female team)
1995 Mark Harris / Greg Kahn (man) Joannie Coetzer (woman) Aquabear (male team) Aquabear(female team)
1996 Ryko Markgraaff (man) Honey King / Joannie Coetzer (woman) Aquabear (male team) Aquabears (female team)
1997 Haydn Holmes (man) Tracey Barber (woman( Aquabear (male team) PEA (female team)
1998 Kyle Main (man) Dominique Donner (woman)) PEA (male team) PEA (female team)
1999 Kyle Main (man) Elzet Pretorius (woman) PEA (male team PEA (female team)
2000 Kyle Main (man) Velia Janse van Rensburg (woman) PEA
2001 Kyle Main (man) Natalie Snodgrass (woman) PEA (female team)
2002 Nathan Lavery (man) Velia Janse van Rensburg (woman) UPE (team)
2003 Nathan Lavery (man) Velia Janse van Rensburg (woman) UPE (team)
2004 Matthew Bouman (man) Velia Janse van Rensburg (woman) Aquabear (team)
2005 Philip Kuhn (man) Velia Janse van Rensburg (woman) Aquabear (team)
2006 Chris Stottelaar (man) Velia Janse van Rensburg (woman) PEA (team)
2007 Byron Lockett (man) Velia Janse van Rensburg (woman) SCATS (team)
2008 Byron Lockett (man) Velia Janse van Rensburg (female) Aquabear (team)
2009 Chad Ho (man) Dominic Dryding (woman) Aquabear (team)
2010 Chad Ho (man) Dominic Dryding (woman) Aquabear (team)
2011 Chad Ho (man) Carmel Billson (woman) Aquabear (team)
2012 Troyden Prinsloo (man) Jessica Roux (woman) PEA (team)

For good reason, swimmers keep on coming back to do the River Mile. Led by the Legend of the River Mile, 80-year-old Mally Richards (shown above) of Jeffreys Bay, is a perfect example. He is getting ready to line up for his 60th River Mile since 1947. “I have been swimming since I was a boy and this is what I enjoy the most. I am hoping to do this till I die,” Richards said. The Uitenhage-born pensioner started swimming for fun at 14, while still a pupil at Muir Collage and swam his first River Mile in mid-1940’s.

Ralph West explains about the contemporary times, “I have participated in the past 4 events held annually. It is held on the banks of the Sundays river in the Eastern Cape. Families arrive early, put up their gazebos and tents, enjoying a day of festivities. Many stalls are set up including the sale of foods and various sporting related goods. Over 1,100 participants took part in 2012 across all events which include the SPAR Men’s and Ladies mile feature events, the Stormforce kids prelim races, disabled mile, wetsuit mile and off-road triathlon.”

With a nearly unparalleled past, the future of the SPAR Redhouse River Mile looks even brighter.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones