Quintin van Jaarsveld
It was a Dusi to savour for South Coast paddlers as three gruelling days culminated in milestones and medals being achieved at Blue Lagoon on Saturday.
Twelve South Coast Canoe Club paddlers were among hundreds of their peers from all corners of the country who initiated their journeys from Camps Drift on Thursday.
Competing in K1s were club chairman Willie Kunz, father and son Rudi and Dylan Bense, Denzil Nicholas and rookie Jarryd Nash. Debutant duo Ayrton Barron and Jean Geyer and stalwarts Simon Heaver and Patrick McNeill were in K2s and Luke Brauteseth, Warren Fairbrother and Donovan Currie joined forces in a K3.
Due to weather conditions and the effects of the two-year drought, paddlers had braced themselves for a particularly taxing, low water race but it was only once they were in the thick of things that they realised just how tough it would be.
The rocky ride was full of ups and downs, with paddlers’ skills, fitness and character being put to the test, but for those who conquered the ultimate canoeing challenge, the increased difficulty enhanced the ecstasy of going the distance.
It was an especially memorable event for Dylan Bense, who completed his 10th Dusi in style to earn his green permanent number.
Bense was nervous ahead of the race as he had just two-and-a-half weeks to train after returning from an overseas trip, but the 26-year-old need not have worried as he cruised home in 156st place in K1 and 201st overall in 13:54:29.
“I’m very happy that I finished and with my result. It felt amazing when I came out and they pulled me aside and gave me my permanent green number – that made the race so worth it,” an elated Bense told eHowzit.
“It’s really special and a privilege to finally be a part of the group of men with permanent green numbers. For the first day-and-a-half, I felt quite strong but really took it easy and used my experience in knowing when to push hard and when to hold back.
“The second half on the dam is where the real fitness comes and the third day was the worst third day I’ve ever done. I had to really slow down as the day consisted of 15 to 20km of running with the boat on your shoulders, which I wasn’t ready for with my fitness. The end never looked so good and I’ll definitely train much harder before my next one.”
On the opposite side of the experience spectrum, Barron and Geyer enjoyed a dream Dusi debut.
The newcomers surprised even themselves as they finished 21nd in K2 and 151st overall in 13:09:11.
“It came as a surprise but we trained hard and were well prepared with the help with our club captain and other senior paddlers,” Geyer said. “Our biggest goal going in was to complete the Dusi and learn as much as we can from the river for future races.
“The Dusi is an unbelievable race. Every day brought new challenges and excitement. Navigating the river with my partner for the first time was a task, but extremely fun.”
For his part, Barron said, “We’re very happy with our result! It was an awesome experience, apart from a small pressure ding on our nose after mission rapid on the first day, there were no other setbacks with a clean Day Two and one hell of a running day on Day Three with approximately 19km of running. I feel that we did really well for our first Dusi.”
Another paddler who passed a personal challenge with aplomb was Kunz.
The most experienced of the South Coast canoeing contingent, Kunz’s comeback (he missed last year’s event due to illness) saw him bag bronze in the great grand masters division, place 167th in K1 and 229th overall in 14:27:58.
“I am chuffed with my final result and also my third position,” he said.
Kunz was concerned about the impact his Poly Amalgia Rhumatica (an auto immune disease) would have going into the event, but he had a largely incident-free race.
“I had absolutely no pain during the three days and as a result of the low water and only one swim, I came out boat and body intact, which my wife Colleen was very grateful for. I’m normally covered in cuts and bruises and my boat needing repairs, but 2017 was good to me.”
He did, however, say it was the most difficult of his 22 Dusis to date.
“I had an awesome Dusi as far as swims, spills and pains were concerned. I had a stupid swam on the first day at Mission rapid and after that, I was in racing mode.
“Looking back, I must admit I was a bit disappointed on my first day’s time of 4:26:31, which I put down to not dragging my new boat over Campbell’s, down Guinea Fowl and Geoff’s rd.
“For some reason, I was a bit hesitant, but on the second day I flew down Ngumeni hill. Andre Hawarden, who is a multiple previous age category Dusi winner, now in my category, pulled 20 minutes on us on the first day and a further 20 minutes on the second day. At the end of the second day, I was only one minute 45 seconds behind Phillip van Niekerk in second place.
“The third day was gruelling. We must have run all of 20-22km with the boats and then you still had to go over Burma. The make-up of your batch – how many K2s and non-competitive paddlers like the 25-year-old batch, were in front of you at Burma – actually decided your final time.
“I ran very well on the tar road to Umzimyati and possibly even made up some time but then got caught behind a number of K2s going up Burma. Unfortunately, there’s not much space and as a result no pace.
“At that stage, most paddlers have also lost their sense of humour, so trying to push in was out of the question. It was a case of walk 5-10 metres, stop and repeat all over again, which is very frustrating for somebody going for a category position.
“When I eventually got to the top, I just dragged my boat where ever I could. Just below Five Fingers, there was only a trickle of water, so you would paddle a few metres and then get out to scramble over rocks or to pass someone who got jammed.
“At pump house weir, we were in for another shock as the normal 250-350 metre portage turned into a mind-blowing 1000-1250 metre run/walk. As I got onto the head waters leading into Durban, the wind started picking up which wasn’t fun.
““It made me realise just how tough the Dusi is, my toughest to date, and how much more training you have to put in to be competitive. I was happy with my paddling fitness, but my running could’ve been better, so for next year’s K2 race, I’ll start running earlier.”
Before then, though, Kunz’s attention will be squarely on the Canoe Marathon World Championships, which will be held at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg from 8-10 September.
“I’ll take a few days off and then it’s back to hard training. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I will be giving it 110%.”
The tried-and-tested tandem of Heaver and McNeill had an excellent race, finishing 54th in K2, eighth in the masters division and 216th overall in 14:11:22.
Rudi Bense placed 187th in K1, 12th in the masters category and 258th overall in 14:52:07, Nicholas crossed 276th in K1 in 17:30:11 and the trio of Brauteseth, Currie and Fairbrother finished fifth in K3 in 20:42:30. Nash came through two long days before illness ended his race at the start of Day Three.
Kunz, co-founder of South Coast Canoe Club, praised his fellow paddlers, saying, “I’d like to congratulate the new youth brigade and the first-time Dusi paddlers. Ayrton and Jean did extremely well and Luke had the patience of Job to steer the K3 through in what was the lowest Dusi in 20 years.
“I think Warren’s view of a social paddle down the Dusi went out the window on the first day, but he persevered and with the little training that they did together in the boat, it was a great achievement.”