Quintin van Jaarsveld
Ayrton Barron and Dylan Bense led the South Coast surge in the 67th edition of the iconic FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon, which culminated in Blue Lagoon on Saturday.
They were the top local tandem, although all five South Coast Canoe Club pairs had successful K2 showings from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
Rudders took a pounding across the board and there was plenty of drama on all three days.
In their maiden Dusi as a duo, Barron and Bense finished in an impressive 77th position overall, and 68th in the men’s category, in a time of 10:53:05.49.
“I’m happy with our result. We put in many hours of training,” Barron told eHowzit.
“The race was good; we had quite a bit more water than last year, and we had no serious setbacks except for bent rudders on Day Two and Three.”
Barron’s faced an additional challenge en route to his second Dusi finish in the form of a bruised right heel and ankle, injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident two weeks before the highlight of the canoeing calendar.
“It was quite painful throughout the race,” he admitted, but played down the injury.
Barron had an experienced partner in Bense, who added an 11th finish to his decorated Dusi career.
“Our goal was to make top 100, so getting a 68th was great,” Bense told eHowzit. “We were definitely thinking about the top 50 to get a silver medal, but that will take a lot more training,” he laughed.
“We did a few races last year to get used to each other and found out that there were a few changes that had to be made. I moved to the back of the boat since I’m a lot heavier than Ayrton, and that helped the boat through the rapids a lot better and made us a bit faster.
“It was a bit unusual to be in the back; I did find myself giving out lines,” he laughed, “but it was the right option and with my experience of the Dusi and his good driving, we made it through well.
“We definitely complement each other on weight and running. Our running is very good, so we gained a lot of positions there. Ayrton being light in the front kept the nose of our boat up and me in the back allowed me to provide more power and space to brace.”
Bense, who earned his green permanent number last year, said he’ll continue his love affair with the Dusi for as long as possible.
“They go by so fast, but they never get easier,” he chuckled. “I’m just happy that I’m blessed enough to be able to have done 11 and I’m going to keep going as long as I can run and paddle.”
The experienced duo of Simon Heaver and Patrick McNeill were in fine form, finishing sixth in the masters category and 142nd overall in 12:17:43.24.
Bense’s father Rudi and brother Jordan also had a good outing, placing 144th in the men’s category and 164th overall in 12:45:12.18.
Club chairman Willie Kunz reunited with Roy Delhove and the dynamic duo delivered yet again, securing a silver medal in the great grand masters category and placing 186th overall in 12:55:02.45.
“I’m very chuffed with our second place and pretty impressed with our overall position as well,” South Coast Canoe Club co-founder Kunz told eHowzit.
Kunz, who now boasts 23 Dusi finishes, said they were made to work particularly hard for their place on the podium.
“I thought that the water level on Day One was rather low despite the release. It appeared as if the water was lower – actually catching up with it – at about Mission, which is about 10km from the end.
“Day Two was even lower and we had major rudder problems after we shot Washing Machine. We landed up in some dead water and couldn’t manoeuvre our boat out quick enough.
“After several minutes and several boats passing us, we eventually got out. Reversing the boat backwards into the rocks bent our rudder almost 90 degrees.
“After a scary trip down the Cascades where we actually sank the boat, we managed to straighten the rudder a bit. After shooting Tombi successfully, we bent the rudder again, which meant a further couple of minutes lost. After replacing the rudder, we had a good third day going around Burma.
“All in all, it was a very good Dusi. It is, however, getting more and more difficult to remain competitive, especially against the youngsters in our club,” he laughed.
Craig Rhodes and Donovan Currie wrapped up another successful showing by South Coast Canoe Club by placing 37th in the sub veterans category and 375th overall in 15:29:33.01.