Quintin van Jaarsveld
Local paddlers on Saturday’s savoured finishing what turned out to be a memorable FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon.
Heavy rains in the build-up to the marquee event on the South African paddling calendar left the Msundusi and the Mngeni Rivers running full, setting the stage for a humdinger of a race.
The three-day race was once again a test of stamina, endurance and concentration for professionals and amateurs alike as they paddled and ran 120km from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon in Durban.
Over a dozen local paddlers formed part of the field of hundreds, with Dylan Bense claiming the bragging rights as the top-placed South Coast Canoe Club paddler, finishing 40th in the men’s division, 97th in K1 and 107th overall in 10h50m09s.
Bense, who boasts a green permanent number, was pleasantly surprised with his performance after facing a battle just to get to the start on Thursday.
“I’m very pleased with my performance. I wasn’t expecting much as I wasn’t as fit as last year, and I found out I had Bilharzia and had to treat it last week, so to still get this result is great,” he told eHowzit.
“I definitely didn’t expect to be the fastest local paddler. I really thought Ayrton [Barren] was going to take it; he’s been super fit and consistent all year, giving me a good hiding in a few races,” Bense laughed.
“My brother Jordan was also biting on my heels; he came out of nowhere on the first day and was only a few minutes behind, so I had to buckle down, but I think it came down to experience and that’s what brought it home for me.”
Having now banked 12 Dusi finishes, Bense insisted, “The race itself never gets any easier.”
He added: “It definitely helped with the higher water level due to the rains, which played into my hands quite nicely. I didn’t have any real setbacks with the boat; it held up nicely and no major repairs were needed.
“I had a bit of ‘Dusi guts’ on the last day, though. Thanks to my seconder/fiance who quickly got me two Imodiums and sent me on my way.”
It was a Dusi to savour for the Benses as Dylan’s bother Jordan and father Rudi also had solid outings. Jordan placed 19th in the Under-18 division, 121st in K1 and 138th overall in 11h28m49s, while Rudi finished 17th in the masters division, 172nd in K1 and 233rd overall in 12h50m52s.
Ayrton Barren, who formed a successful partnership with Dylan in last year’s race, was the second-fastest local competitor, crossing 43rd in the men’s division, 103rd in K1 and 115th overall in 11h03m25s.
The experienced pair of Simon Heaver and Patrick McNeill once again did their thing, finishing eighth in the masters, 28th in K2 and 158th overall in 11h47m16s.
Shadrack Mkhize made a successful comeback and came away with a 27th-place finish in the sub masters race, 189th in K1 and 269th overall in 13h12m07s.
Next in were Josh Halle and Denzil Nicholas, the duo placing 84th in K2 and 277th overall in 13h15m00s.
South Coast Canoe Club chairman and co-founder Willie Kunz completed Dusi number 24 in 13h21m57s, landing him fifth in the great grand masters division, 205th in K1 and 295th overall.
Kunz, who finished on the podium in each of his last five Dusis, wasn’t satisfied with his 2019 performance.
“I’m disappointed in my overall result considering the time and effort that I had put in,” said the 66-year-old.
“I trained really hard and possibly overtrained. Six weeks before Dusi, I bought a supplement and tried to eat more meals and snacks during the day, before and after training to try and gain some weight. Everybody kept telling me how thin I was and I think in the race, it came back to bite me as I had no reserve.
“My performance was below what I am normally used to, but to be honest I think I must accept that age is becoming a factor. In saying that, I was possibly 15-20 minutes off the pace every day against my competitors in my age category or even an older category. So at the end of the day, I must go back to the drawing board and try and improve.”
It was a challenging time on the river, Kunz explained.
“Pietermaritzburg had big rains a few days before the start of the race so Day One was always going to be good. With the heavy rain, I don’t think the organisers had time to remove all the tree stumps and debris, so there were quite a few dangerous obstacles on Day One.
“Mussons on the first day was a war zone as they basically stopped the guys going on the left as a result of a tree block, so the middle and right channels were jammed. Canoeists are generally impatient and when you have a flowing river, not everybody knows and follows the instructions from the marshalls, which causes the jams.
“Taxi rapid on the first day was a challenge and a number of boats were broken. I took a quick swim thanks to the lifeguards and then I took another swim on Day Two at some arbitrary rapid just after Washing Machine, which is a tricky rapid. I managed to shoot Gumtree and Tombi without a problem and on Day Three, I had no swims.
“The final day was a surprise as they let out 11.7 cumecs of water, so I paddled around as opposed to going over Burma. It seemed a lot of water, but the river was still very narrow at places, which made for a very technical and very patient day.”
Kunz concluded that “if all goes well, I will line up again next year.”
Jarryd Nash, meanwhile, finished 319th in the masters, 234th in K1 and 370th overall in 14h12m15s, while the father and son team of Bevis and Warren Fairbrother showed great heart as they soldiered on to finish 225th in K2 after a marathon race of 22h09m15s.