What learning to ride a unicycle is teaching me about life after death

By Don Shay, Hermanus

My soulmate of 34-years, Suellen, died 13 April 2021 after 4+ years of living with stage 4 lung cancer.  Two and a half weeks later, on 30 April, I had my first unicycle lesson with Donna Kisogloo of OddWheel Unicycles.

I had been thinking about trying to ride a unicycle for a few years, as a potentially good form of exercise with a little edginess to it, but how does one learn?!  In discussions with a good friend, Marian, the week after Suellen died, I casually mentioned my interest in learning to ride a unicycle – and in a synchronous moment she told me about a friend who took a unicycle lesson in Cape Town, and then promptly sent me an email with Donna’s contact details.  Was I serious about wanting to try to ride a unicycle or not?  Was I ready to step out of my grief and try something new?  After intense care-giving for the past few months I intuitively knew I needed to do something new and refreshing – and challenging.

I also realized immediately that riding a unicycle was symbolically the healing path I needed – learning to find my balance and center in a radically new way, taking very small practical steps of learning new skills (and ways of being), to lean forward gently and trust my ability to right myself by leaning on my pedals (trusting my support base), concentrating and paying attention to small details, the need to practice every day if I wanted to make progress, finding a mentor/ coach to teach and help me, knowing I would fall down a lot and knowing that was okay – it was part of the process – and that I would continue to get up again and again, moving beyond faltering steps to ‘flow,’ building confidence slowly and steadily, reminding me daily of my desire to grow and learn new things.

Six weeks after the first lesson I attended a skills session organized by Donna on the beautiful Muizenberg Pavilion.  I was keen to attend, but also a little cautious as I still could not ride without support from leaning on a wall.  Mostly I was doing independent revolutions (360° pedal rotation) of 3, 4, 5 and an occasional 9 or 10 – and still far too dependent on catching myself by leaning against a wall.  My ‘personal best’ at the time was 16 independent revolutions.  I was on that important and exciting threshold of independent, confident riding.  Everyone else in attendance could do figure eights, bounce up and down and do other cool skills.  Miró was learning to ride backwards.  They all inspired and encouraged me.  Vincent gave me some very practical tips about leaning forward and pedaling quickly with power, looking out at a further horizon and sitting up straight.  He also noticed that my seat was slightly too high – so we lowered it.  Dean told me that one of the keys was really sitting fully in the seat, putting all my weight on the seat.  They were paying attention to me in important and subtle ways and giving me some very specific feedback.  This is what a community does for each other.  I reached a new PB by the end of the day – 20 independent revolutions.  I also realized that on the pavilion I had no wall to lean on – so I really had to trust myself and go for it on my own, without being so dependent on a crutch (a wall).

Donna Kisogloo is a community builder.  She invites people into her world, helps them build competence and confidence, and then helps them connect around shared interests.  Donna leads by example; generous, patient, hopeful, encouraging, going the extra mile to make connections, direct and honest – and making time to organize and plan.  Real, deep changes (and healing) happen in supportive communities.  We need many more community builders in our fractured world.  Thanks, Donna, for inviting us into your world and believing in us.

I’m still practicing every day.  I fall off the unicycle a lot, mostly landing on my feet and catching myself, with the occasional fall to horizontal on the ground.  If ‘coming off the unicycle’ (falling down) was considered failure, then who could learn to ride a unicycle, or even to walk as a child?  It takes repeated, sustained effort and practice.  One’s mindset can’t be ‘if I can’t get this right today, then I’m not going to do it.’  It requires the long view, the patient view, the seeing the ‘end in mind’ and knowing it takes lots of ‘falling down’ to get there.  All unicycle riders followed this path.  Acquiring new intuitive body balance skills and muscle memory needs time to develop in order to kick in automatically; the willingness to ‘stretch’ oneself consistently for a while is necessary.  A similar process might be learning to play a new instrument and how squawky and choppy it can be until one reaches basic competency, and then some flow starts to happen.

I reached a personal best (PB) today with a 50 independent revolution ride, two days past my seven week start of 30 April.  I practice for at least 20-30 minutes every day, taking small steps, being aware and present, observing myself so I can try minor changes.  In the exhilarating flow of 50 I became aware of all the subtle, necessary micro-adjustments made all the time – arms wide and re-balancing in micro-seconds, trunk twisting, body leaning slightly forward but pulling back some times – these are all the adjustments and Plan B’s required to make progress and experience the ‘flow’ forward.

What an exciting threshold to be at.  I was filled with great joy, with excitement, with hope and confidence for what future rides would be like. I was filled with new life and good energy, which is what I was after.  I tasted life after death, the fruit and flow of steady and persistent daily practice with a new passion.  I know Suellen is smiling.

Gray is the Brightest Colour

By Shaun Murphy

I haven’t thought about a unicycle in a long time. Strange. Not the thought itself you see, because where majority of the population consider a unicycle to be a weird, fringe machine reserved for clowns and circus performers I find it perfectly normal. In fact, some of my closest friends are performers of the circus variety. Jugglers, stilters, indulgers of the slackline. And of course, unicyclists.

I find the thought strange because I am a unicyclist. Part of a small, tight knit community of people that are warm, welcoming and accepting to whomever attempts to tame a single wheel. This friendly community is always willing to help, offer advice and come together for a ride. Perhaps, its because our numbers are few… but I like to think that this contraption entices a certain person. A particular mind set and energy draws in a unicyclist. Moth. Flame. Sunshine. Braai. You get the idea.
Once you’re in, you’re in. Sure, people come and go. Life happens, but you’re always welcome back.

The past few years my balance has shifted from a wheel to a life path. My family and I are trying a new way of living. Away from any corporate machines and nine to five J.O.B’s. We are traveling through Asia, teaching English as we go. It has been marvellous so far and has taken my full energy. Dimming the lights on any thoughts of unicycling I should add.

Recently, many unicycle memories have flooded my thoughts. All great memories, but what triggered them unfortunately was devastating news. We lost such a bright, glowing member of our tribe. A wonderful family has lost a loving father and husband. I have lost a friend.

Gray Braadvedt tragically passed away. It still feels surreal. I can’t believe he is gone.

Gray was such a big part of the South African cycling scene. It was always a pleasure riding with him because we would always be greeted with smiles, waves and banter. Always banter! It wasn’t because we were riding unicycles either. It was Gray… every cyclist we passed seemed to know him. “Where’s the other wheel Gray!?”  followed by giggles. Always answered with a razor sharp comeback like “I took the training wheel off!” cue more eruptions of laughter. That was Gray. Always smiling and willing to stop for a chat. Always willing to lend a hand anywhere he could. Need help with that flat tire? No problem. Derailleur giving you issues? No stress, Gray was the man offering assistance. He had this energy about him. You felt you had known him since childhood as soon as you met him. Coffees after a ride were an unwritten rule. His love of coffee was immense, but it was the ritual of swapping stories with any other riders at the local coffee shop that he enjoyed most. People would come to our table for a chat or he would glide from table to table checking in with friends or telling a funny story. He had many of those! It made finding Gray in a crowd easy. I would simply listen out for laughter and head in that direction.

When he entered the world of unicycling he quickly became one of the stand out road unicyclists. No surprises there, Gray was strong and tenacious and loved a challenge but it was his personality that quickly cemented him into the local uni scene. It was just fun to be around him!

I first met Gray at Giba Gorge, a local park in Kwa-Zulu Natal offering trails, fresh air and single track. I was a complete noob to muni and quickly found out I had an uncanny ability to find minuscule stones to knock me off my unicycle. Consistently. Gray was patient as ever, his face always wrapped in a smile even though this particular ‘ride’ was him watching me fall. Many times over. Haha, what a gentleman. That ride sparked a friendship filled with laughs, rides, coffee and conversation. Some deep and meaningful, some classic bullshitting. Mostly classic bullshitting.

When I started riding unicycles, I planned on doing so because of the charity organisation I was running called auSOMEtism. Our son Nic is on the autism spectrum and we were raising funds for Nic’s school by riding various road rides. The magnificent tribe I mentioned earlier jumped on board riding for our cause, while the amazing OddWheel Unicycles even made us there official supported charity! Gray was no exception, he raised funds for these events like it was his own and crushed the rides along the way. He loved Nic and he loved being part of anything that was helping others. He truly was a great ambassador for auSOMEtism and unicycling. Whether he was grinding it out on a unicycle for auSOMEtism or towing an ice-cream cart for CHOC he never stopped giving.

Gray was a fantastic human. He will be missed by many. I will miss my friend, but I will not forget him. Hamba kahle Gray.

To Heather, Rivers and Emma our deepest and sincere condolences.

From the South African Unicycling community/ tribe.

Here are some links to familiarise yourself with Gray and his life through unicycling:

UniDaba 2018

UniDaba 2017

Let’s Get Sleepy – Dawn of the Riding Dead, 24hrs of Oak Valley 2017!

By Shaun Engelbrecht

What are you on about now Shaun! Well before I waffle on further, let me give you a bit of background so that things make a bit more sense. 24hrs of Oak Valley, is an annual race that takes place at the Oak Valley wine Estate in Elgin. It is a 24hr mountain bike race around the farm, where you can either enter as a solo rider, or as a team. In 2015, four of us took part and it was epic, so myself and Donna get chatting to enter again in 2017, and from there things got underway.

This time around we managed to round up a team of 5, including myself, for the 2017 event, and all of us would be doing this on our unicycles as we did in 2015. We were the OddWheelers and the event was to be known as the “Dawn of the Riding Dead”. The reason for this being that after having a rider on the trial non-stop for 24 hours, we all begin to look like Zombies. This now leads me to the introduction of our mascot, Mr Death Wheel, who was plastered on our team T-shirts.

Mr-Death-Wheel

So, as I have already alluded to, the idea is to have a uni rider on the trials at all time for the full 24 hours, with the ride starting at 12:00 PM on Saturday 28 Jan, until the same time the following Sunday. We would be riding through the heat, darkness and whatever else we were dealt, all the while trying to stay on our uni’s and not get run over by those training wheels, AKA bicycles. After all we were those guys, you know the kind that enters a mountain bike race, but only pitch up with the front wheel. Damn, now even I am making horrible, where is your other wheel jokes…

The Team

Donna: Ladies first, we have Uni Mom, the face and soul of OddWheel and the South African unicycle community. She always keeps the rest of the team on their toes, and puts up with the boys.

Donna Kisogloo by Mark Sampson

Van Zyl: The yoyo master, and all round great rider, who in a short time has been able to accomplish what many riders with plenty more years under their belts, could not.

Van Zyl Gunter by Mark Sampson

Rob: Speed machine on and off road (thankfully for me he did not train that much), and for the weekend, our potjie master. All I can say is we were well fed on Saturday night, nom nom!

Piotr: Our polish scientist friend, whose name is forever mis-spelt and mis-pronounced, but politely takes it, but don’t let the politeness fool you, because he is a strong rider. Piotr, thanks for taking the last leg, I think I would have died if it were not for you!

Piotr-Wolski-Finish-Line

Yours Truly: The speed freak (only cause I have been riding longer than Van Zyl, Rob had not trained much, same for Piotr due to his travels and Donna tweaked her back the week before the race). I was the unofficial ring leader for the team I guess. My take on the team, what a bunch of clowns, pun intended.

Shaun-Engelbrecht-by-Mark-Sampson

The Trail

The initial planned trail was around 12km with about 250m in elevation gain. However, we experienced heavy rain the day before the race. The organizers were forced to change the route as some of the trail was damaged; the new route was now around 12.5km with 350m in elevation gain. Not too bad, but over 4 laps, which is 50km of riding and 1400m of climbing, all on one wheel. Eina!

The route started on a rugby field, and for a uni rider, grass is one of the worst things to ride on. It tends to pull you in all sorts of directions. The trail then shoots off right and straight into a climb running along an apple orchid, then through a flatter section between rows of pine trees before looping around a rather dry dam. The climbing continues through a short single track section before hitting a nasty and steep section of jeep track, which tops out at a dam full of flowering lilies. It may seem as if the climbing is over, but alas it is not.

A small downhill section, and then you guessed it, more climbing. Now just a short, steep and muddy section lay between the rider and relief. Now comes relief from what feels like never ending climbs. From here it is pretty much downhill. The only section causing a few problems are what I like to call baby heads. Imagine closely packed rounded bumps, making you UPD if you are not fully in the zone. The builders had also placed and few log bridges over fences and low walls, they are fun during the day, not so much in the dark.

The route has now looped back, heading in the direction of the camp site, a steep decent leading you into the best part of the entire route. Flowing forested single track, compacted and wet thanks to the recent rains. No matter how tired you may be, it would always bring a smile to your face, and as a bonus you knew you were almost home. Coming in, you are greeted by friendly smiles of the first lot of campers, situated right next to the trial, then riding up onto the field for a last push to the start finish straight for the changeover.

Oak Valley

Van-Zyl-Tag-Point

The Event

To recap, 24hr mountain bike race, solo or team, running from 12 until 12, with a loop totaling 12.5km from start to finish. The aim is to cover as many laps as possible with in the 24 hour period.

Although the race only began at 12, the day started a lot earlier for us. The camp site opened at 7:00, registration at 7:30 and we still all needed to drive to Elgin, just the other side of Sir Lowry’s Pass. Rob and Donna were the first to arrive, finding us a suitable campsite nice and close to the start, Van Zyl and myself arrived not too long after, whereby we commenced operation camp set up.

Tents, awning, chairs, pots and pans were flying, however not nearly as much as the general banter and chirps. We were yet to start on the mountain bikers chirps which would come later. After much internal fighting and chirping and giving each other our 2 cents worth, we had a home for the next 24 hours plus, and it was something to behold…

Donna-Camp

Inside-Camp

Not really, some cyclists had full camper set ups, husbands, wives, children waiting hand and foot on riders. Never the less, it was our camp and it contained the most important piece of kit for the weekend, our unicycles. From there we went to register, get our tags and scope out the start/finish areas. The music was already pumping. There were a few stalls to buy food and drinks, but tucked away behind it all were hot showers which would come in handy later.

We were joined a bit later by Piotr, who had only arrived back in Cape Town at 12 the previous night, returning from Lusaka. Piotr took the minimalist approach, proceeding to take out a sleeping bag, sleeping mat and his unicycle. Camp set up done.

The next question was, who would go first. The idea was that the individual with the lowest number goes first, and that was Piotr. Well he needed to catch up on sleep so that would not work. I then volunteered to head out first, being the unofficial team leader and all. Suit up! It does take me a while to get all my gear on. Let’s see, shoulder strap for the constantly dislocating shoulder, ankle guards to the ever twisting ankles, knee guards to protect the knees from the inevitable falls, not to mention the standard stuff like helmets, gloves etc. Now I am ready, let the race begin.

The event started at 12:00 on the dot, beforehand though we had to be at the rider briefing where the MC was kind enough to ask the training wheels (mountain bikers) to stay out of our way because we are sssoooo much faster than them.

Briefing done, we place our metalic steeds at one end of the rugby field, and then line up at the other end, and when 12 o’clock comes we race to find our bikes or unicycle in this case, and begin the race. Being in no particular rush, I walk across the field and let the racing snakes do their thing, and I wait a bit for the masses to head out, and off I go, beginning our 24 hour endeavor.

The route profile shows that majority of the elevation gain of 350m is covered in the first half of the route, and tappers off for the remaining half. This means that I was picking off the training wheels one at a time during the first few kilometers, with the weekend worriers battling to keep up with me. The second half is another story, with all the freewheeling training wheels catching me again. I must say though, I am pretty sure I still finished the first lap ahead of some other cyclists which always makes me happy happy.

To ensure smooth hand overs, we had a set of two way radios, whereby the rider would let the team know when they had passed the tag points. The next rider could then start to get ready and had a rough idea when the current guy or girl would be in.

Donna took over the reins on my return, flying out the gates and showing the boys how it is done. She was followed by Van Zyl, then Rob and lastly Piotr who had caught up on some sleep. Our lap times varied between 60min and 1h30min.

Change-Over

Starting at 12 worked in my favor, it allowed me to scope out the trail. When it came time to do my second lap in the heat of the day meant that the 2 wheelers started to fade and the riders had spread out a bit. I was adamant then to do a sub 60min lap, and my second lap would be the best time to do it. Piotr came in at 18:00 and I was up. I shot out of the gates, determined to beat the hour. I was out the saddle on the climbs, gunning it on the flat sections and bombing it on the single track. I knew I could do it. Coming onto the rugby field, I began to slow, satisfied with my pace and feeling I had it in the bag. Then I see Rob waving his arms wildly and shouting at me to hurry up. Oh crap, this is going to be close! Sprinting for the finish I fly across the line and swipe my timing tag. I had done it, the team had timed me and I had done the 12.5km in 59min37sec. That was close, high fives were given all round, I was happy. I did however have another 2 laps to do and pretty much spent all my energy on this one lap. It was so worth it, even if I had reached my zombie state earlier than expected.

While I was out, Rob and Van Zyl got working on the chicken and veg potjie, with enough chow to feed the masses. Their timing was perfect, with the food being pretty much ready by the time I sat down after my hot lap. Nom nom nom ☺

IMG_1650

Jumping ahead shortly, when results were shared the Monday after the race, I perused the lap times and the results showed I completed that second lap in 1h 00min 2sec. Can you believe it, 2 freaken seconds! But our team scientist, Piotr, had reminded me that the team had taken two independent lap times, and even if we take the average of the three (one timing tag, and two by the team), I would still be under the 1 hour mark. This was the second time Piotr saved me, the first being when he enthusiastically took to doing the last lap of the race for the OddWheelers.

Okay, back to the present, sort of? We had now started our second laps in the same order we started with. By now lights were required as it was getting dark. Riding in the dark is a whole other story. You can’t really plan your line as you are unable to see too far ahead. Even the smallest of bumps can throw you off if you are not careful, and judging variations in terrain is also on the difficult side. UPD’s (unplanned dismounts) are the order of the day, sorry night.

Things were running pretty smoothly with the transitions of the night laps. My next lap was at around 12:45 AM, I could not sleep so I was up and ready long before Piotr radioed in with his location.  Off I went into the darkness on his return. As tough as it is riding trails in the dark, it more than makes up for it in it’s tranquility and beauty. Riding around the dam. I took a break, switched off my light, and just watched the stars, no light around to ruin and pollute the glittering night sky. I still have to finish my lap though. Onwards and upwards. There were plenty of Leopard toads on the trail, they even seem to play chicken, sitting in the middle of the path. They do not flinch one bit, I am surprised not to see any flattened with tread marks across their backs, but I think most riders were keeping an eye out for them. The next interesting thing I came across was something I could hear long before I could see it. Coming upon one of the dams, I heard a strange sound I could not place, and it was loud. Once at the dam I stopped and began searching for the source, and noticing some ripples coming off the lilly pads I realized the noise was being produced by dozens of frogs. I enjoyed the spectacle for a while and remembered that someone must be waiting to take over for me, so I better get a move on.

After my hand over to Donna, I went to bed satisfied, feeling that things were running smoothly, well little did I know. Not long after my return, Donna had made her way back to camp. Her light had died about half way into her lap, and the problem with LED’s, is that they give no warning, poof and they are gone. Donna did check how much life was in the battery before her departure, which was sitting on 70% full. She cycled home against the flow of traffic by means of her cellphone torch, dodging speeding cyclists that were blinding her with their dual lighting systems of 2000+ lumens. On Donna’s return Van Zyl was loaded with extra batteries to complete her lap, so into the darkness he soldiered. Can you guess what happen to him? Well his light died too, and unlike Donna’s light, his died well passed the halfway mark near the end of the course. Instead of changing to a back up battery he soldiered through the dark on his wheel, or not. To add insult to injury, the batteries for the radio died too…

With the evenings issues behind us, the sun decided to join the party, with Rob bringing in the new day while out on the trail. Our order was a bit of a mess now, but I was ready, and off I went for my fourth and final lap on his return to camp. By far my slowest of the 24 hours. My legs were lazy, my head was sleepy, and the muscles in my back did not know what hit them. Onwards and upwards, it must be done, even if there are some extra UPD’s added to the mix!

The team had settled into the new days pace, the only thing was that at the current pace, Van Zyl would finish his last lap at around 11. While on route he decided a bit of tom foolery was in order, and started posing silly selfies on the WhatsApp group while doing his last lap.  Timing wise we still had an hour to go. Although you do not need to ride for the full 24 hours, we needed to show what we were made of, so keep on riding we must. No one seemed to be keen to take on the final lap. I was mentality preparing myself to take on the responsibility as team captain. Piotr then pipes up with vigor, that he wants to do the last lap. Thank goodness, I think to myself. I found out later, Donna was doing the same thing in her head after thinking she may have to do the last lap.

Off Piotr went, with a renewed energy to complete his, as well as the team’s final lap. This brought us to a total of 17 laps in the 24 hours. I was also to be his favorite lap of the race. On his entering the start and finish straight, the team raced to the finish line to support and cheer along with the MC cheering.  Piotr had packed a beer in his bag at the start of the lap, he took it out and opened it up ready to taste its sweet hops. However there was one last UPD in store for him, needless to say, there was beer and unicycles flying, but he recovered, took a sip of his beer and crossed the line in style, like a boss!

We were now all looking and feeling like zombies, and visually Mr Death Wheel had nothing on us. We did however do it. 24 Hours of Oak Valley, tick! We had completed 17 laps, placing us 18th of 23 teams. That is right, we are on unicycles and still managed to finish ahead of 5 teams. Not too shabby I dare say.

Laps-for-OddWheelers

Shova on a Unicycle for auSOMEtism

By Gray Braatvedt

Last year I promised that if I did a sub-3 Shova on my road bike I would do it this year on my unicycle. When I snuck in at 2:57:10 I was elated … until I remembered my promise, and suddenly a bit of angst set in.

I roped in my good friend and fellow unicyclist, Shaun Murphy and together we set our minds on the challenge of doing the 2016 Tsogo Sun Amashova – 106km from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. We contacted the organisers to see if they would allow such madness on the course (secretly hoping they would say no). Not only did they allow us, but they went out of their way to accommodate us and the cause we were riding for, auSOMEtism.

And so it was that Shaun and I found ourselves on the start line outside the Pmb town hall at 06h35, 10 minutes ahead of the pro/elite group, staring down an open piece of road with the daunting task of 106km ahead of us.

amashova-2016-startline
I haven’t mastered the art of launching the 36” wheel properly and often need 3 or 4 attempts to get going. The added pressure of TV, photographers, announcers and all the pro’s looking on was a recipe for an epic fail going viral on YouTube. My BMT shone through and I mounted the Yardbird like a boss. 1st attempt and I was rolling.

For about 10km the Shova was officially led by two unicyclists. Once over the big F-word; Fox Hill – a 13km climb designed to hurt a unicyclist, I got into cruise mode and was making excellent time all the way to Cato Ridge – and then the wheel came off. Something jammed my brake and one moment I was cruising at 22kph, and the next instant I was flung on the tar like a child tossing a rag doll in a temper tantrum. Bruised, bloodied and a bit shaken, I never quite regained my rhythm or confidence. My disk brake was not working quite as well as it could have and I still had the downhills of Drummond, Botha’s and Field’s to negotiate. None was easy.

It was never going to be a walk in the park and the last 20km proved to be very challenging. The wind had picked up by the time I hit the city bowl and the swirling gusts between the buildings almost undid me again. It was great having my son Rivers come riding out to meet me at Tollgate bridge and keep me company for the last couple of agonising kilometres.

Crossing the line just shy of 6 ½ hours to the applause of the crowd lifted the spirits and then discovering that the whole East Coast Cycling Club had waited for me to arrive at the hospitality tent was especially touching. Shaun had his own tales of attrition as he battled through loose cranks, cramps and saddle vs buttocks to finish in 7:08.

It’s amazing how quickly the thoughts of pain fade, only to be replaced by the awesome moments of African life captured in the indelible film of ones memory;

  • The three herd boys who tried to race me with their puppy barking madly
  • The sun lighting the spring green slopes in the Valley of a Thousand Hills
  • The cries of “Shovashova” (isiZulu meaning ‘push push’ as you pump the pedals) from the road side
  • The teenager who pointed me out to her parents and then could have died when I waved back
  • The rural special needs children lined up on the side of the road in Cato Ridge
  • And of course, the huge generosity shown by so many people in donations towards the auSOMEtism NPO.

Thank you!

Next year I’ll go for a sub-6.

If you would like to donate to this worthy cause go to www.ausometism.co.za

Charl’s House of Fun

By James Dicks

A short while ago, a friend contacted us about constructing a spacenet for his new house. This may seem an odd task to be asking a unicycling company to undertake, but naturally there is a back story. A mutual friend of myself and Donna, Sylvain Burki, passed away tragically at the end of 2015. As a memorial and honour of him we held a Park Play Session and constructed a massive spacenet reminiscent of those constructed by Andy Lewis and the Moab Monkeys. The spacenet resembled a glorified dream-catcher design. Based on this, we were apparently the most qualified team to take on the task of building Charl’s net.

The Moab Monkey's "Mothership Space Net Penthouse"

The Moab Monkey’s “Mothership Space Net Penthouse”

Park Play Sessions Spacenet for Sylvain Burki

Park Play Sessions Spacenet for Sylvain Burki

Many nets are constructed by using a bend or knot that does not isolate each mesh of the net, the dream-catcher design for example. This was unsuitable for our purpose, as we wanted to ensure maximum safety and even spacing between each mesh. It was clear that children would be the predominant users of this net, so small mesh sizes and safety were absolutely imperative (not that safety isn’t imperative for adults too!). It became a toss-up between a reef knot net configuration and a traditional fisherman’s netting knot. Both are aesthetic knots, and suitable for our purpose, but would create a slightly different weaving pattern. In the end we chose a traditional fisherman’s netting knot.

We managed to find samples of each colour we intended to use. We chose a Dyneema Super Lite rope for a couple of reasons. Dyneema has a wonderful specific strength, and in combination with a resilient polypropylene sheath allows for a small diameter rope with sufficient strength and durability for the task at hand. We chose 5mm as it retains a good strength, whilst not being too thick and cumbersome neither too thin and painful under foot. Luckily Southern Ropes makes this rope in a number of vibrant colours.

OddWheel Unicycle HQ went on a road trip out to Grabouw to investigate the much anticipated space we would construct our net over. The house is situated in a stunning location, overlooking the Grabouw mountain range. The house is modern and industrial in its architecture, yet elements of playfulness are apparent throughout the house. Getting to business, we measured up the space for the net at 3050 x 1900 mm, and mentally measured up the task we faced.

In order to give a rough approximation of the length of rope required for the project, some simple algebra could be implemented. If our length is seen as the hypotenuse of each triangular block of the mesh, then by dividing the total length by the root of the sum of the square of the other two sides (mesh size) c.f. Pythagoras’ theorem, we can work out how many blocks the length and width of the net will comprise of. Furthermore, we can then work out how much rope is required for each block, and “hey presto” we have an approximate length. In this calculation I incorporated the length of a knot for each block when dividing by the total length to ensure we didn’t make too many blocks. Likewise, the length of rope necessary to make each knot was also included into our rope length calculation.

In our endeavor to get rope with pretty colours, we went on quite a wild goose chase around Cape Town. In the interim time between our telephonic enquiries and actually procuring the rope, someone seemed to have bought out all the 5mm Dyneema Super Lite rope! After a trip into the CBD, whereby a shop owner gave me a false promise of ocean blue 5mm Dyneema Super Lite (it was actually 6mm on closer inspection) I was off to the manufacturing plant of Southern Ropes for a brief sojourn around the factory floor trying to find the manager, who could sell me a roll. Eventually the day came to a close with all three colours in hand, just in time for evening traffic for my victory lap home.

The next day we set about actually starting the weaving process. After a significant portion of time trying to establish the intricacies of “casting on” the rope to begin the process, we were eventually under way. The bulk of 100m of rope proved a struggle whilst weaving, but we were apprehensive to cut the rope into sections. Hence it transpired that we pulled through the entire rope on each section of tying the knot. Work to make severe callouses and tired forearms. Whilst we threaded spaghetti, I tried to do some mental maths as to how many meters of rope we would eventually pull through in the entire construction, but sheer horror inhibited a final result being estimated.

We scrapped the concept of a frame to build the net onto, and instead created a rudimentary loom system. By using two pieces of 38 x 38 mm wood and spacers the knots could be tied onto the previous row of loops with even spaces to create a neat net. Pulling, pulling, pulling… Day 1 resulted in a mere single row of usable net, with a width of 26 meshes. The length was proposed to be 32 meshes; we were going to be here pulling rope for months!

We found that by wrapping the rope around the 38 x 38 mm wood and knotting the next loop around another piece of the same wood, a spacer of 100 mm was required. However, after the first row we realised that the 38 x 38 mm wood wouldn’t slide into the mesh since space had been taken up by the knots on each side. Another trip to the hardware store and one 32 mm diameter round curtain rail rod later, and we were back in business. This was now the back piece of our loom, whilst the original 38 x 38 mm wood was implemented on the leading end.

Slowly but surely we refined our technique at making each knot, until we didn’t have to talk our way through each step of the process. By day 3 we could complete a row in two hours; not bad, but still highly time consuming. Now I can see why the industrial revolution came to fruition! Fantasies of winches to pull the rope through and robots to intricately knot each mesh wafted around my head whilst we kept on pulling, pulling, pulling…

However, a couple of rows down, the net was starting to look beautiful, and I was truly proud of the fruits of our labor. There is a beauty to a hand crafted product. Maybe its my sweat droplets glistening off the rope that makes it look so beautiful.

At about this point in the process, we found that pulling the latest row of loops off the square 38 x 38 mm wood was ever so tiresome and serious time consumer in the process, so we decided to implement a round object instead, which could easily twist out. By working out the perimeter of the square wood, we found that 50 mm diameter round pole give us an equivalent sized loop.

OddWheel's Net Loom

Whilst Donna skipped off to summer in San Sebastian, Spain for Unicon 18, I spent approximately 45 grueling hours hauling rope in grizzly Cape Town winter. I will save details at this point, since I think my mind has blanked much of it out. I would like to make a special shout out to Sir David Attenborough though; whose soothing voice depicting the scenes of our natural world took me through the darkest hours.

Countless rows of knots later (probably 46 in actuality) and I had run out of rope. The three colours – red, purple and blue – looked spectacular together. Although I felt proud of the accomplishment thus far, I still had trepidation towards the installation. I had stretched the net out in the garden with a pulley rig and it JUST made the required length. Moreover, it was debatable whether my technique of tensioning the net in situ would be effective. I planned on attaching three edges with cable ties, then pulling it taught with a pulley and bar. I guess I’d just have to wait and see.

Well the day finally arrived, and we set off to Grabouw once again. It was a pre-frontal day and highly atmospheric to say the least. After cutting out the original net, we lay the new net down under the space; it looked very small.

Anyways, we badgered on, and started by attaching it at the far short end with numerous cable ties. Next, we attached the two long edges. We then took cable ties to a row of knots 5 spaces from the end and attached a steel bar off which we would tension the net with a pulley rig. Thankfully Charl had another pulley rig so we could equalize the tension easily. However, my steel bar was a bit too long so Donna and Charl ran off to a neighbour to source a hacksaw. I took the opportunity to hop onto Charl’s garden midline, which was a lot of fun in the wind.

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Upon return, progress proceeded, and we hauled in a fair amount of the net – but not nearly enough. I attached the far short end with rope to alleviate the cable ties when they started popping under the tension. At this point we had a delicious lunch to ramp up our motivation and energy, strong coffee included. Things post lunch moved along slowly yet methodically. We de-tensioned and re-tensioned, to get the long edges roped up and in place. We de-tensioned again, this time to adjust the pulleys as they had run out of distance to pull in any more. We got to the final tensioning act, and the net was almoooooost to its full distance. We made a call to attach it with rope anyways, with longer spaces. The reasoning behind this was so that we could hop onto the net and hopefully stretch it in and set all the knots – anticipating we could eke out a wee bit more distance from the net. Well, that seemed to work! We re-tensioned the two long sides, and set about the task of hauling in the final edge. Completion was nigh!

By some miracle, we managed to get the net to the other side eventually. It looked truly magnificent. Borderline biblical. Joseph’s Techni-colour Spacenet. After a frolic on the net and some celebratory pictures, we pursued our odyssey home at the ungodly hour of 7.30pm. That made for a 12 hour round journey. But longer than this physical journey was that of the entire net’s construction. I learnt a lot from it, both in terms of rope work and about myself. Patience. Methodical planning. Perseverance. Etc. Etc.

As happy as I am that the net is successfully constructed and rigged, I was a little sad to see it out of my hands. My calloused hands. But hopefully I shall return to Grabouw sometime in the future for a luxurious afternoon nap on the net – no weaving allowed!

UniDaba 2016

By Owen Venter

With corrections and slight elaborations by Donna Kisogloo. The core of Owen’s write up is rad as…. and I’ve tried to not interfere too much.


I’m a 14 year old who can’t live without his unicycle. I’ve been unicycling all by myself in Limpopo for about 6 months. I think the loneliness started getting to me so I went onto just about “the only” unicycle website I know of in South Africa, www.oddwheel.co.za. There I found my way to the events tab. After pages of events all saying location: Cape Town, I saw a picture of a rhino on a unicycle with the title: UniDaba 2012. This is where it all started.

It looked like it was a ball, even though the event was 2400km from my home town of Louis Trichardt. I was keen, super keen! I then spent the next few hours Whatsapping and posting on Facebook to find out if anyone knew if there was going to be another UniDaba? The next morning I saw a reply and from there onward the date, location and all the rest were organized!

About a year later, I was finding a way to fit a unicycle into a bag with all my other clothes. I did’nt know what to expect of UniDaba but from all the chirps and funny comments on the Whatsapp group I knew there would never be a boring moment and there wasn’t!

On the first day we kicked off early at the Bike Park on the Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate. This was my first time meeting everyone where I wasn’t asked, “Where’s the other wheel?”. We had an awesome morning rolling around the pump track and expert course of the park but then the competitive side began to surface. We separated into teams of 2 and fought our way through three laps of rocks, logs, drop-off’s and much more!

Lapping it at The Bike Park at Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate

Cyclocross start line.

After the morning fun at the Bike Park we decided to get some grub in Muizenberg. We filled up our tanks and were ready for the afternoon ride. We left the Tiger’s Milk and headed towards Kalk Bay, a 3km fun ride along the beach front. We stopped often and tested our Trials skills on benches, stairs, skinny wall rides, etc.

Feasting at Tiger’s Milk

Shaun Devenish getting some air time with his stair hopping.

Van Zyl Gunter carefully negotiating a skinny wall. Notice the tongue.

Decorating a lighthouse with unicyclists and their uni’s.

The next morning we kicked off early to be at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve by 9am. This was the start our Muni adventure! We split into two groups and headed in different directions.  One group went up the mountain to enjoy the downhill of Upper and Lower Canary, this is the group I stuck with. The other group traversed the base of the mountain on gravel roads. It was a more flat ride. My group spent the next hour, maybe hour and a half “riding / walking” up the logging roads of Jonkershoek, when we finally reached the top we settled down for lunch, tucking into a variety of nuts and biltong! Once fattened up we hit the single-track because what goes up must come down. We enjoyed 3 solid hours of downhill single-track with lots of laughs and lots of bails! We arrived back around 14:30 where I immediately ordered a MASSIVE milkshake and slice of carrot cake at the coffee shop by the entrance.

A very happy bunch of Mountain Unicyclists!

Something about Jonkershoek and elevation.

The next day was the “day of balance”! We all met at The Shed in Stellenbosch and prepared for a day of circus fun! The first hour was a mixture of electric uni’s and giant pogo-sticks. Then later the hockey began! This was my first time playing unicycle hockey so I was quite nervous but I quickly adapted. We spent the next few hours playing match after match of uni-hoki It was a really awesome experience and I recommend that everyone gives it a shot. The next while was spent trying to ride a giraffe and ultimate wheel. An hour later Unidaba slowly came to a end.

Owen Venter experiencing a giraffe for the very first time. Can you see the stoke?

Gavin Stockden mounting the monster pogo.

101 Uni-Hoki

The convention was an amazing experience and I recommend that EVERYONE should come to UniDaba 2017. UniDaba was not just a whole lot of people riding unicycles, it was a place were you could grab a few tips or try out some new tricks. It was a place where you could have a decent conversation about unicycling or anything related to unicycling. UniDaba is not just for experts, it’s for everyone! Its for the real pro’s to the one’s who are still looking to learn!

I would like to say a huge thanks to Donna Kisogloo at OddWheel Unicycles for setting up such an amazing weekend!

UniDaba is now a permanent event on the South African unicycle calender. It happens every year and happens during the mid-year school holidays. Tell other unicyclists about the event! It’s fun!

Between the Rocklands and a High Place

I spent the three days before the highline festival in the southern Cederberg hiking with my family. I wondered why it was that I was feeling a slight apprehension towards arriving at the festival on Friday. I have subsequently come to realise that a large reason for it was a slight trepidation towards the actual rigging of the highlines. I am passionate about rigging, and enjoy the process to a large extent. However, the vast majority of my rigging has been done under the guidance and supervision of Sylvain Burki. As many in our community may know, Sylvain tragically passed away late last year. Sylvain was also the creator of the Rocklands Highline festival some three years prior. The notion of rigging without his extensive knowledge and guiding hand seemed somewhat intimidating and unappealing to me. That combined with very irregular highlining in the past year was not a great combination to motivate me.

Well Friday eventually rolled around, and my sister and I rolled into the dusty camp of De Pakhuys in my rattling Toyota Yaris. I had barely set foot out the car and was already unravelling a few hundred meters of webbing and sorting gear into my pack to head straight up to the highlines. Kyle Pratt, Burghen Siebert and Jeff van Breda amongst others had already done a stellar job of doing the preliminary rigging of the vast majority of the lines. Andy Court and I were the new old-hand riggers on the block that morning, and we set about finalising the lines with the others.

Riggers don't obey the laws of day and night

Riggers don’t obey the laws of day and night – Mike Kent

By the gentle glow of late afternoon light, the lines were all successfully rigged, and walking ensued. Immediately it was noticeable the increased number of people at the festival, and more so the huge increase in people successfully walking the highlines! The jarring whip of a highline as someone took a leash fall interspersed the relaxed chatter along the sidelines, invoking spectators to rubber-neck at the downward spiral. To see friends that seriously struggled to stand up on a highline in previous years now send lines with ease and finesse was a truly wonderful sight. Likewise to see new faces appear out of the woodwork and share with them the intricacies of highlining was deeply gratifying. The psyche of a fresh send is contagious and stoked my fires to give the lines a burn. I did not have serious inclinations to send my project from last year – the 45m highline – but nonetheless had a wonderful time giving it some proper attempts.

Dramatic air high-fives - Caroline Ruiz

Dramatic air high-fives – Caroline Ruiz

It was also great to see those with a different talent integrate it on the highlines, such as Toni performing her lyra and vertical silks skills up high. It just goes to show that with a creative mindset there are endless possibilities!

Toni doing some alternative highlining- Peter Samuelsson

Toni doing some alternative highlining – Peter Samuelsson

On both Friday and Saturday night Karma played her unmerciful role when I spent a soggy night in a friend’s very unwaterproof tent to pay my dues for being too lazy to set up my own tent – which is very well waterproofed! The rain cleared up with the sight of the rising sun both days though, and conditions for highlining were quite ideal (we don’t dissolve like an Aspirin in a bit of drizzle like boulderers do).

As similar to previous years, one of the great beauties of the festival was the diversity of activities on offer for all. It was somewhat inconsequential if you weren’t a slackliner let alone a highliner, there was something for everyone to share and get involved. During the day juggling, unicycling, POI, acro-yoga, miniature bike riding, heavy chilling (yes, that is a legitimate activity) and a number of other shenanigans were undertaken. Few due to the weather braved the waterline, and those that were brave enough were generally spat off into frigid water in an unceremonious fashion!

Whilst I bustled into my warmest attire and cursed the imminent winter in the evenings, the boulderers amongst us were at the point of nigh sexual arousal by the friction conditions for this time of year. Self-proclaimed as official moral support and spotter I provided superior beta insights and safety marshalling for those with a fetish for wrestling pebbles.

On both nights Caitlin Louise instigated fire jams after dinner. The night owls’ talents of fire staff, POI, ropes and fans were on display to the accompaniment of drums and didgeridoo. Andy Court gave a wonderful debut fire breathing performance, keeping the crowd with baited breath as he taunted his facial hair with a firey trim.

It was inspiring to see Kai and Rogan Samuelsson (10-and-three-quarters and 7-and-two-thirds years old respectively) heading out for a zipline across the highlines, and I noticed their keen enthusiasm and rapture over the entire experience. Later that evening I caught up with Kai around the campfire and was delighted to hear that he was keen on progressing his slacklining with the aspiration to possibly attempt highlining the next year. It is this kind of young enthusiasm that will take South African slacklining and highlining to the next level.

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Young talent - Peter Samuelsson

Young talent Kai and Rogan Samuelsson – Peter Samuelsson

Although it was definite to myself and others that were close to Sylvain that his absence in the hills was present, it was still inspiring to see the community come together, and hopefully see its further expansion in the future. We have had the pleasure of visiting American Bria Shurke returning to our festival, whereby she deemed our festival both the most welcoming community and safest in terms of rigging. This came as quite a compliment as she has attended numerous international highlining festivals!

The owner of De Pakhuys, Thys Kruger, installed a beautiful plaque in memory of Sylvain at the entrance of the trail leading to the highlines. Thank you Thys, for both your hospitality and empathy.

Beautiful plaque added by De Pakhuys owner Thys Kruger - Donna Kisogloo

Beautiful plaque added by De Pakhuys owner Thys Kruger – Donna Kisogloo

By Sunday I was beginning to walk like a cowboy from one too many catches on the highline; my inner thighs aesthetically resembled an abstract artwork in pink, blue and purple hues. I was battered, dusty and ready to head homewards, but ultimately highly satisfied with a lovely time out in the magical Cederberg.

Thank you to everyone, from those that helped organise to the bystanders, who all made the event a beautiful experience. In particular, a massive thank you to Charmaine Retief Kritzinger for continuing with the organisation and management of the highline festival in true style and finesse this year, all in attendance deeply appreciated your hard work!

Harry the hound taking in the panorama - Peter Samuelsson

Harry the hound taking in the panorama – Peter Samuelsson

A pot of gold and a field of magic over Rocklands - Peter Samuelsson

A pot of gold and a field of magic over Rocklands – Peter Samuelsson

Ariel view of the camp and Andy Court on the 65m line - Caroline Ruiz

Ariel view of the camp and Andy Court on the 65m line – Caroline Ruiz

Flying with the birds - Donna Kisogloo

Flying with the birds – Donna Kisogloo

Drone footage of the festival and surrounds capturing the expanse of Rocklands – Mille Foto