By Quintin van Jaarsveld
South Coast stalwart Willie Kunz completed a silver medal hat-trick while Dylan Bense edged ever closer to a coveted place in the top 100 in the Dusi Canoe Marathon at the weekend.
Over 1400 paddlers set off from Camps Drift last Thursday in the 64th edition of the iconic three-day paddling event, which honoured its pioneer, founder and first winner, Dr. Ian Player, who passed away last year.
Among the bumper field were South Coast paddlers Kunz, Dylan Bense, Rudi Bense, Shadrack Mkhize, Simon Heaver, Patrick McNeill, Graham Christensen and Justine Brett.
South Coast Canoe Club chairman Kunz for the third consecutive year claimed age group silver, placing second in the grand masters division behind Nigel Briggs after a total of 11 hours 42 hours and 17 taxing seconds.
“I’m really chuffed with my achievement,” Kunz, who was the 209th K1 competitor to cross the finish and 278th overall, told eHowzit.
“I went into the race knowing that I had to conserve energy as I have a tendency to go too hard. With Thursday being a real scorcher, I held back on my running but in hindsight I don’t think I could have gone any faster. Perhaps holding back a bit on Day One helped me for Day Two and Day Three.
“The race gets harder and harder every year and whilst you’re struggling over Ngumeni or Burma, which I didn’t do, you think to yourself how bloody hard it is, but the moment you finish those negative thoughts disappear and you start thinking that it wasn’t that bad after all.”
The 62-year-old is hardly slowing down; he clinched silver with his K2 partner Roy Delhove in what was his 20th Dusi last year and also secured K1 silver in the 2013 edition.
Although he put particular importance on his running this year, Kunz wasn’t happy with his performance in this department.
“My running let me down on Day One and I’ll have to go back and re-assess my running training. I’ll definitely start earlier and build a better base.
“Chatting to Bruce Brauteseth, who had a brilliant race [68th overall], I’ve realized that I must step up my running programme and include intervals and hill training, with and without the boat. The competition is so fierce today and there are so many youngsters to compete against that you have to sharpen up.”
A setback on Day Two, when he apparently holed his boat going over either Tombi or Hippo, didn’t help Kunz’s cause.
“At that stage, I was following Simon and Patrick and whilst we scraped over soon afterwards, I had felt water in my boat and fell off their wave.
“I stopped twice before the dam and at the dam, Carol, Simon’s wife, gave me dry duct tape and some elderly gentleman gave me Genkem. It felt like it took forever and ever for the Genkem just to start drying so that it won’t just peel off.
“In that time, Rudi past me after straightening his rudder at the bottom of Ngumeni. The plan had always been that Simon them would give me a wave across the dam and being behind them at Hippo with about six to eight kilometres to go, I was confident that I would stay with them.
“But canoeing is a strange sport and you must accept the mishaps and obstacles that come your way. Judging by their Day Two time [4:20:43], I lost 10 to 12 minutes emptying and patching my boat.”
He added that he was pleased to have finished strong.
“Day Three was awesome,” Kunz said. “I hauled over the dam and was possibly 10 seconds behind Simon and Patrick. I managed to pass Simon them on the run down to Tops Needle and only saw them again at Island portage.
“At Pump House weir, I ran away from them and opened up a lead going into the flat water closer to Durban and I was waiting for Simon’s usual chirp and camaraderie but it never came.”
‘Young blood’ keeps getting better
Dylan Bense continued his run as the top-placed South Coast Canoe Club paddler in the biggest event of the year, the 23-year-old earning the distinction for the third successive year after finishing 129th overall in 10:31:29.
The result, which also placed him 117th in K1 and 29th in the Under-23 division, was Dylan’s best individual result yet after he and his K2 partner Daniel Muller-Nedebock placed 111th overall and he finished 149th overall in 2013.
He said the 20-position K1 improvement was bittersweet.
“I was actually pushing for a top 100 position, but with a demanding job, it was harder for me to train how I wanted to, so I’m happy with my position for the training I’ve done.”
He added: “The race was easier and more forgiving than what was expected as we thought it would be very low, but a good water release was given, so my boat stayed in good shape throughout the race with no patching needed.
“I expected less water on the third day so I did the Burma Road portage – which was a killer – and actually lost a bit of time for all that effort.
“I would’ve preferred more training but as I said, my job didn’t allow me to do as much training as I wanted to, but all in all I was happy with my fitness, especially my running.
“I was fortunate enough not to have any problems…it was a newer, faster boat that I was using for the first time in a race and I was very impressed with it.”
Rudi wins ‘gentleman’s wager’
His father Rudi, who hoped to earn another Player Pearce medal for finishing in the top 200, also had mixed emotions about his performance.
His time of 11:49:20 saw him finish 290th overall, 215th in K1 and 16th in the masters division.
More importantly for Rudi, though, the result was good enough to win a wager between him and clubmate Mkhize.
The duo, who had paired up and broken their boat last year, decided to raise the stakes in this year’s K1 race, agreeing that the loser of their head-to-head battle would have to buy the winner a case of beer.
Rudi won the wager by little over three minutes, with Mkhize finishing 297th overall, 218th in K1 and 32nd in the veterans division in 11:53:46.
“The highlight of my race was definitely beating Shadrack. He’ll be supplying a case of beer, which we’ll have together so I can give him some tips for next year,” Rudi laughed.
On a more serious note, Rudi remarked: “I was hoping to get under 200, but I think realistically that’s becoming out of my reach now.
“We were all pleasantly surprised by the amount of water they released for us considering all the talk of a low river and low dam levels. Day One was as hot as predicted, but the weather was pleasant for Day Two and Day Three.
“I made the mistake of walking over Burma Hill on Day Three as I thought the water level was going to be very low. This wasn’t a pleasant experience, as anyone who’s done it will tell you.
“I didn’t have any serious problems – the only time I was a little concerned was when I got wrapped up in some fishing line, which resulted in me having a swim.
“Fortunately, the boat didn’t break, so I got to the side quite easily, untangled myself and got going again.”
Long-time partners Heaver and McNeill placed 65th in K2, 18th in the sub masters division and 267th overall (11:36:52), while Christensen and Justine Brett, a late replacement for Michael Brett, finished 289th in K2 (14:19:52).
Another paddler with South Coast ties, four-time Dusi winner Ant Stott (Pope’s Canoe Centre/Matelec), overcame the challenge with his mom, Beth, in 14:30:00 (305th in K2).
“It was one of my tougher Dusis but I thoroughly enjoyed paddling mid-field amongst the ‘fish and chips’.
“It is a very special medal for me this year and to have crossed the line at Blue Lagoon with my very own mother,” said Ant.