The story behind Andre de Beer & Babba’s Lodge
23 September 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. We meet characters, personalities and the people around the sport of mountain biking, some who make it their living, some who do it for fun. Some who pay for them in terms of sponsors and other who put on events and that’s where we’re going today. Because we’re going to be speaking to a man called Andre de Beer.
Those people in the north of South Africa, perhaps Pretoria, will know Andre as the man behind Babba’s Lodge, a lodge but also an event venue that hosts off road triathlon, mountain bike events and has done for nigh on 15 years. Andre is sitting opposite me now. First, let’s get to know the man a little bit. Andre, your sporting career started rather interestingly, it might have started before then, but you once carried a golf bag as a caddy?
Andre de Beer: Yes, I used to for extra pocket money. Went to the golf courses, standing in the parking area and wait for a bag because we were very poor. A lot of people look down to people, I’m a guy that came from Danville. Everybody knows Danville, it’s in the west of Pretoria and it’s really a poor community. I realised by doing sport, I’m going to get out of that situation. Not that I look down, but I’ll grow out of it.
I went overseas after school and also in Miami I started there at the golf course and picked up a bag and then carried on the circuit there. I had a lovely time, I had to come back to South Africa and then caddied a little bit here, couldn’t get a good bag, but yes.
John Daly is a big softie
GDK: Who did you caddy for?
ADB: I caddied for a couple of guys, great names. I caddied for John Daly, which was a good experience. A lot of people see him as a bad guy, but he’s not a bad guy, he’s got the biggest heart. He’s paying his people well that work for him. We always had a 5% cut, he’d pay you 10%, whenever he makes the cut or not. If he wins, he’d just blow it, the money’s gone, gambling, women. But he’s a good oke and he’s got a good heart.
GDK: Were you on the bag when he won the PGA?
ADB: No I wasn’t, unfortunately not, it was smaller events.
GDK: So you came back here, you got into active sport in terms of triathlon, is that right?
My triathlon and duathlon background
ADB: Yes, I was a very good breaststroke swimmer, that’s how I got to the States. But it didn’t work out for me because we weren’t on that level. I started, like I said, carried bags and I played a little bit of rugby at school. Then I came back and I saw this new sport triathlon.
Then with our winters, it’s so nice, but you can’t swim. I started a new sport, biathlon and I ended up in court because there was a biathlon already. Then it changed to Duathlon. Now duathlon is a ITU sport and actually it started in South Africa with me and Piet Marais and Nick Bester. I’m more a triathlete, a road triathlete, but I was champion in SA Champs and Africa Champs three times in a row in off road triathlon. I believe I don’t have the skills, the people say you do have the skills for mountain biking and I just love mountain biking, I just love it.
GDK: Mountain biking is a type of sport that I feel that people who do it, even for a living or at the highest level, still get this enjoyment that perhaps in other sports, playing at a high level, they tend not to get. Because it’s such diversity and such fun to have.
ADB: You’re not close to nature, you’re one with nature, that’s the thing. A lot of times I’ve got very bad days and then I’ll go to a little koppie on the Babba’s route or wherever. I just go sit down there and I listen to everything.
I pray and cry and nobody sees me crying. Then when I get home, I’m a different person, I’m totally different and that’s mountain biking. You don’t get it on the road. The only time I was hijacked from my mountain bike was on the road, not in the field. I love animals and animals keep you humble and wild animals keep you in your place.
The story behind Babba’s Lodge
GDK: Tell us the Babba story and where that originated from, Babba’s Lodge?
ADB: It’s not a lodge, it’s just our place, there’s a couple of little chalets which I didn’t finish. I had friends from overseas, Benny Vansteelant, he was a World Champion in duathlon, he was Mr Duathlon. Hendrik Sware, a lot of overseas guys came to us. They trained there and when we go and take them to the Kruger National Park or Pilanesberg to see animals, game. I used to stop at a petrol station and I’d say: Hey Babba, fill it up and that’s where the name came from. They will ask each other: Are you going to Babba’s this winter because in their winter it’s our summer. That’s how the name and today it’s almost a brand.
GDK: It is in a way, here in the north of Pretoria, it’s not far, how far from –
ADB: 3km from Zambezi Avenue.
GDK: It’s close by and it’s evolved over the years. I’ve certainly ridden some of your events on the mountain bike there and you’re still holding events. But what was the original aim when you held those early events?
ADB: Just to be part of mountain biking, to learn more about mountain biking. I started this sport when the gears were still down the tubes and the V brakes. In the last 10-15 years, just to be part of mountain biking and obviously I thought I’m going to make money, which is not true. People go on a calculator, 200 people against 150. But there’s a lot, events are so structured now. You’ve got to present at the jock, which is a good thing, you don’t get fly-by-nights anymore.
But my son played rugby overseas last year and he came back, blew all his money and then he started working. He used to mark the route and it was boring and I took over now. Because an opposition company headhunted him and he’s going well. But since I’m marking the route, it’s brilliant, I must say. I just love it and it’s a route everybody can ride.
GDK: Can we go and ride it any time of the week?
ADB: Unfortunately, not. We’ve got some issues there, the guy living there has got lions and all exotic animals. So during the week it’s a little bit dangerous, it’s a risk.
The event plan going forward
GDK: You’ve hosted almost an event a month for quite a while, but what’s the plan going forward?
ADB: We had a talk with one of our main partners, CycleSure and we’re going to have five events next year with them. There’s going to be like a Yellow Jersey, we’re still deciding what colour. A Yellow Jersey on the Masters, on the Elite, everybody. Then at the end of the series, who is going to win the series. Then we’re going to have an event, pick a medal, where the guy is going to pay R50 and they can pick medals that’s left over. They maybe missed a second leg and they can pick the medals, whatever they like.
GDK: Will these be duathlon events?
ADB: No, we’ve got one duathlon, which is Afriman, which is the toughest in the world, that’s because of the heat. We moved it back to September, but it’s a trail run and then a road bike which is non-drafting and then a trail run again. But we’ve also got a mini side of it, a shorter one, so that is the other duathlon. We’re thinking of doing more duathlon because there is no duathlon anymore.
GDK: But your five events will be mountain biking?
ADB: Those five events will be mountain bike and Afriman those are the events we’re going to have at Babba’s next year.
GDK: Have you decided on dates yet for those mountain bike events?
ADB: We’re busy with the dates with CSA and we also work in conjunction with guys like Advendurance, not to clash. Because people hurt each other and we’d rather work together. I’ve got their dates for next year and now we’re going to work our dates and then we’re going to put it together, but it’ll start in February.
GDK: What sort of distances?
ADB: The distance was always 70, 35 and a 12km and it went down. But it’s back to plus-minus 70, 38 on the middle route and then a 12km and a 1km for kids.
Competition, rest & beating cancer
GDK: You still ride and compete?
ADB: Yes, I tried to scale down. I just yesterday withdrew from 70.3 World Championships which I qualified a year back because of an injury. But I need to rest, that’s the main thing, no medicine will help.
GDK: Andre, therein brings us to our next thing, you’re a cancer survivor or a cancer fighter are you not?
ADB: Yes, I had melanoma in my foot, that was, I think a lot of people can’t understand why. But it was just to bring me down. At that time, I had everything in life, I had houses, I had holiday houses, I’ve got a brilliant wife, everything was going and I was too big for the game.
Then it happened and I was very sick and that’s how I became a human. You know, your biggest thing is health and then I asked why me and then I realised why not me. I saw a magazine, Ironman, Anything is Possible, that’s their slogan. I decided I’m going to do an Ironman and 2005 I was standing on the line in Port Elizabeth and I’ve done it. Since then I’ve done I think 22-23 Ironman events. I’m still loving it, but I’m too competitive.
GDK: The fight to beat cancer?
ADB: That was a tough one and yes, without my wife and I’m going to share this, animals. I had a ginger cat, his name was Gemmer, which is ‘ginger’ in Afrikaans. One day, I don’t know if you know chemo, you get chemo burns on your face and I was looking ugly. I’d just had enough and I was sitting with a shotgun on the toilet, just sitting there. I was just tired.
I was in the valley and when you’re in the valley down there, you need somebody to take your hand, which is on top, that can see further than you. I loved this cat and my nickname is ‘Katman’. Because I’m a cat whisperer. Then I took the easy way and I was ready to go.
Then Gemmer walked in and I thought, this guy loves me, there’s no condition. I’m going to drop him and so that cat saved my life. From there I just said: God why? I recovered. Today I can tell the story and there’s a lot of things you can learn from animals. I’d rather be friends with animals than some people. But what I want to owe in life is to love everybody, that’s what I owe people.
GDK: Andre, it’s a remarkable story, yours is a remarkable story, thanks for sharing it with us. I know we’ll see you on the bike and on the runs for many years to come, I’m sure.
ADB: For sure, as long as I can get up in the morning and there’s pain in my body because then I know I’m still alive. If there’s no pain, then I know I’m dead, so as long as I can do that every morning, I’ll be happy. But sometime we need to die and you can’t say it’s bad luck, we have to die sometime. I’m ready, I had a good life, but I think for the next 30 years I want to do sport, it changed my whole life.
GDK: Go along to Babba’s and ride one of Andre’s events, sometimes next year. There are five of them on the mountain bike calendar, look them up, perhaps where would we find the dates?
ADB: Normally on cycleevents.co.za, it scrolls on your programme and also we’ve got one the 18th of September. Then we’re going to launch the new series sometime in January.
GDK: Which turnoff from the N1 do we take?
GDK: There you go, Walmanstal, heading north, up towards Polokwane, take the Walmanstal, just outside Pretoria and you find Babba’s there, go and enjoy a wonderful day out. Have a chat to Andre, he’s a remarkable man and get to know his story. Because it’ll inspire you to carry on, no matter how tough life might seem. He’s got a good story.
Andre de Beer from Babba’s and he’s a South African sporting legend, you might not have heard about him, but get to know him a bit. Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast you’ve been listening to, take care wherever you are. If you’re on your bike, do so carefully, with a smile and appreciate it all because it won’t be there forever. Until next time, take care, cheers.