South Coast paddlers steeled for ‘old school’ Dusi

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Quintin van Jaarsveld

South Coast paddlers are relishing a Dusi Canoe Marathon unlike any they’ve faced before when the 65th edition of the iconic 120km, three-day event gets underway at Camps Drift, Pietermaritzburg on Thursday.

Due to the ongoing drought, the worst since the turn of the century, dam levels are at their lowest in three decades, setting the scene for an ‘old school’ Dusi reminiscent to those prior to the implementation of water releases to aid paddlers.

Organisers have thrown its weight behind the efforts by the region to manage its dwindling water resources optimally and as a result, it should be one of the more demanding Dusis in recent history.

“Yes, as paddlers, the effect of the low rivers will be felt during the race but we see this in the broader context of the serious water crisis that is facing the region and embrace it as a challenge,” said FNB Dusi General Manager, Brett Austen Smith.

“We organise events on these rivers for just a handful of days a year but we have an obligation to consider those who rely on these river systems every day of their lives for drinking water, washing and cleaning, let alone the farmers who are battling to irrigate their crops and provide water and food for their livestock,” he added.

The South Coast Canoe Club contingent set to take up the challenge consists of a mix of familiar and fresh faces.

Regulars Rudi and Dylan Bense, Simon Heaver, Patrick McNeill and Craig Rhodes are back for more, while Denzil Nicholas and Donovan Currie will be making their Dusi debuts.

Missing from the local line-up this year is South Coast Canoe Club chairman Willie Kunz (illness) and fellow Dusi veteran Shadrack Mkhize.

Rudi will be teaming up with his nephew and novice paddler, Denzil. The youth and experience tandem haven’t had as much training together as they would’ve liked, however, they’ve competed in a couple of races recently to improve their cohesion.

“Because it’s Denzil’s first Dusi, he had to paddle qualifying races, which meant we did more races than usual. It’s been fun training together but not easy as he lives in Munster and trains in the Pont while I train at the Umzimkulu, so getting together to train has been an issue, but nevertheless, the times we did get together were effective,” Rudi told eHowzit.

Like it has paddlers countrywide, Dusi fever has gripped the duo.

“Denzil is very excited about getting a Dusi behind his name. It’s such a special event because like the Midmar Mile and Comrades, it’s an iconic race and forms part of Iron Man.

“It’s also special because of the number of entrants, all going through the same trials and challenges, whether it’s the heat or a broken boat or paddle.

“More and more international paddlers are entering and people help one another when something goes wrong. It’s a great achievement to go through this epic race and get to the end together, especially when one races with a family member or good friend,” he said, adding jokingly, “but it can get difficult when paddling with one’s wife.”

For the new pair, going the distance is the main objective.

“We’re just hoping to finish safely without breaking boats and not being able to finish, but to get under 11 hours would be a bonus,” said Rudi.

Dylan, Rudi’s son, will reunite with Daniel Muller-Nedebock, a former South Coast Canoe Club now living on the Kearsney College campus.

They’ve had just one training session in their Dusi boat in the lead-up to the race, but draws confidence from their maiden K2 Dusi appearance, when they finished 111th in 2014.

Knowing what to expect, Dylan said, steels them for the challenge ahead.

“The Dusi is a race that breaks you right down; it’s relentless and demands respect, constantly challenging you,” he told eHowzit.

“It takes a combination of fitness and mind power to complete it. The sense of accomplishment is what keeps you coming back and makes it so special.”

Their aim is the same it was two years ago.

“We’re aiming quite high – for a top 100 spot – but we know it’ll be very hard due to my fitness levels. Luckily, Daniel is extremely fit, so he’ll have to pull us through,” he laughed.

The tried-and-tested tandem of Heaver and McNeill will look to add to their medal tally, while Rhodes will team up with Dusi newcomer, Currie.

Dusi Canoe Marathon by numbers:

1 – number of finishers in the inaugural edition of FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon in 1951 (late Dr Ian Player)
2 – number of rivers the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon route includes (Msundusi & Mngeni River)
3 – number of initiatives supported by the 2016 Charity Batch (The Dusi Umngeni Conservation Trust, The Valley Chiefs Fund, the newly formed FNB Dusi Drought Relief Initiative)
3 – number of FNB Dusi Canoe Marathons race founder Dr Ian Player won (1951/52, 1953 & 1954)
4 – number of K3 entries in the 2016 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon
5 – number of wins for FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon wins for defending K2 and K1 champion Andy Birkett
6 – number of runner-up finishes for ladies pre-race favourite Abby Solms
6 – days taken by Dusi founder Ian Player to complete the first FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon
7 – number of members of the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon’s ‘Super Dusi Rat’ club for paddlers who have finished 40.
9 – number of ICF Canoe Marathon World championships taking part in this year’s FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon
9 – number of paddlers celebrating their birthdays during the 2016 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon
10 – the number of finishes a paddlers must achieve to receive a permanent number
11 – number of past winners taking part in the 2016 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon
12 – minimum weight in kilograms of a single kayak
12 – number of portages (only 3 are compulsory)
13 – number of paddlers, should they compete in & complete the 2016 Dusi Canoe Marathon, set to join the ’30 or more’ club in 2015
15 – most FNB Dusi Canoe Marathons won by a male competitor (late ‘Dusi King’ Graeme Pope-Ellis)
15 – minimum age of a FNB Dusi competitor
15 Years 3 Months 8 Days – the age of the 2016 FNB Dusi’s youngest paddler Joshua Giddings
20 – number of finishes require to qualify as a King Dusi Rat
46 – most number of FNB Dusi Canoe Marathons completed by any individual (late ‘Dusi King’ Graeme Pope-Ellis)
54 – number of paddlers who have completed 30 or more FNB Dusi Canoe Marathons
65 – edition of the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon to be staged in 2016
69 – the age of the oldest female paddler Maria Collins
73 – the age of the oldest male paddler at the 2016 FNB Dusi Rob Bourne-Lange
98 – Number of K1s entered into the 2016 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon
119,62 – exact distance in kilometres of the race using current conventional route
276 – The number of paddlers who have completed 20 or more FNB Dusi Marathons
569 – Number of K2s entered into the 2016 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon
1248 – official number of entries into the 2016 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon
1981 – year of the first Dusi to allow female competitors
2008 – year that Martin Dreyer and Thulani Mbanjwa set the K2 record (7:33.24)
2014 – year race founder Dr Ian Player passed away
13 093 – number of paddlers who have finished at least one FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon
23 150 – the average number of paddle strokes required to complete the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon
178 596 – number of Rands raised in the 2016 Charity Batch bid
200 000 – number of Rands FNB have donated to the Charity Batch takings in 2016
378 596 – the total number of Rands raised for three beneficiaries of the 2016 Charity Batch

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