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We Salute Anton Erasmus – Cancer Survivor

Saturday, 20 November 2010 16:25 | Written by  Murray Williams
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Anton Erasmus Anton Erasmus Credits: Hywell Waters and Owen Middleton

Anton Erasmus is one of the best-known and beloved characters in South African paddling.  Formerly a top-notch paddler in his own right, for the last few years he’s been giving back to the sport in the role of race director of some of the biggest international surfski events.  He’s now also a survivor of cancer.

The Surfski.info Anton Erasmus Interview

Tell us about your paddling background 

I started paddling at the age of 11 (1966) when Rob Welsh, his Dad and I made a wooden double kayak which we bravely paddled on the Swartkops and the Gamtoos Rivers. We even took it into the sea! This was followed by canvas kayaks which weighed at least 25 kg. The paddling bug had bitten - soon we had found a mould for a old Limfjorden K1 hull (circa 1958) and we built fibre glass hulls with a canvas deck. No rudder and off we went down the Umkomaas River (grade 4 rapids) - yes we swam a few times.

For a while I was the High Performance Director of Canoeing South Africa and worked closely with the then CSA Coach, Lee McGregor. It was a roller coaster ride with highs of having an SA Paddler qualify for the Olympics and have Hank McGregor win World Marathon Champs. The lows were simply too much organising and too little paddling.

…and when did you get into surfski paddling?

Surf Lifesaving grabbed my interest and the 1970's saw me do my first Challenge (5th in the Singles) - our skis were home built out of a foam/glass covered construction. In the early 90's the race was on the brink of dying so I intervened and salvaged the event and still paddled it - managing a 2nd in the doubles with Rob Welsh.  The next year I pulled off a close second in the Cape Point with Markus Burri as my partner.

You now run races – how did you get into that?

So getting involved in running races was out of a selfishness to save the Challenge so that I could paddle it. Now it seems that to put on an event as huge as the Southern Shamaal and paddle it is impossible. BUT I have to do the event one more time!

Anton Erasmus

The Race Director - Southern Shamaal PE2EL Challenge 2008

With a group of Dubai guys we have set up a Shamaal series of events - The Dubai Shamaal, Southern Shamaal and the Mauritius Island Shamaal (yes I have been involved in the running of each). We hope to roll out a few more Shamaal events around the World - subject to funding, sponsors and interest.

I am passionate about paddling, surfski paddling in particular. Paddling on the ocean - doing downwinds was the World's best kept secret but now thousands are out there every day enjoying this amazing sport that has been put on the map by paddlers like Oscar Chalupsky (who can talk up anything) and Dean Gardiner. Billy Harker, in SA, with his fun paddling series, has taken the sport to the masses and of course Rob Mousley has spread the word via the all informative www.surfski.info

Races do not just happen - they take enormous effort and sacrifice from many people, some volunteer, some for a fee, others for fun. Regardless of the motive without these guys and the willing paddlers we would not have the sport that we all love.

Anton Erasmus – Cancer Survivor

Leading up to organizing the world’s toughest ocean surfski race in December, the Southern Shamaal PE-EL, Anton Erasmus faced, fought and beat cancer. How tough is that…

There’s been a lot of focus on cancer this year with a number of paddlers and paddling events supporting cancer research.  We spoke to Anton about his experience with the big C.

Anton, you’ve survived. How did you do it? 

Support from family and friends was huge – calls from around the world! Paddlers were amazing. 

You’ve told me you survived because you stared cancer in the face, and didn’t flinch. How tough was that?

I have stared down Woody Cape, so I looked at Cancer as a huge set of waves – if you are patient you will get through. A key bit of advice was given to me by my surgeon – don’t be embarrassed about the cancer, the scars and the poo bag – show the world and you will be comfortable with it. It worked. Poo bag and Cancer is gone – the scars are a reminder of the importance of looking after your body!

Instead of being embarrassed, or inviting pity, you held your head up high. How important was that?

As I said – this was the key to getting the mind into a stronger space – I felt proud that I had started the battle against cancer with everyone backing me to succeed.

How did you keep up your spirits, how did you constantly boost your morale?

Little things work big time! A call from Lee McGregor saying – better start training we are doing World Marathon in 2011! Another small one was setting a goal to paddle a 10km Time trial whilst under Chemo – and being helped by a 63 year old novice to do so!

There must have been awful moments.

Worst was nearly dying in post op – BP was 60/30, body in spasms – puking and shitting at the same time – all whilst lying in a bed naked! I tell you I was looking for the exit door. But little moments can be far worse – a colostomy bag that leaks – silly mood swings – shouting at the kids and then trying to make them understand why you are being so short tempered.

Did you genuinely believe you would live?

Once I got rid of the Colostomy bag – I knew I would win. It was a small personal victory for my pride.

Did you suffer from self-doubt along your journey?

Oh yes, half way through the chemo – I was having serious constipation, pins and needles, and waking up at 2 am with a hangover feeling. – I was blaming the drugs and doctors when I should have been blaming the cancer. A paddling friend who is also an Oncologist re focused my energies.

You’ve said it was tougher for your loved ones around you – both to accept, and to be strong. Your message to other family members in the same situation?

Yes – when you have cancer you simply come to terms with it – those around you do not. They show sympathy and hide their own fears from you. Again do not be shy – do not handle the cancer with kid gloves – talk openly about your fears and concerns – I was amazed that others were more stressed about my cancer than I was!

Do the flowers now smell sweeter, the sun and stars now shine brighter?

Carpe Diem! You realise life is far too short to put up with negative attitudes. Appreciate every moment – do not waste time (you can’t save it – but you can use it better!).

ISLAND SHAMMAL 2010-1342

"Carpe diem" Anton making the most of life in Mauritius!

In the epic words of the SA rock band Prime Circle: “And we say, live for today and not next week!” Do you now? Why don’t we all?

Simple – when all is “normal” we spend more time planning for the future than doing things today – why – we are scared of been accountable for our actions – plans for the future are seldom measured against reality. Again Carpe Diem! You might well die tomorrow - so you will be seriously pee’d off if you wasted your last day!

You’re an inspiration, Sir.


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