Pietermaritzburg - With the region still in the talons of the brutal two-year
drought, the 2017 Dusi Canoe Marathon that gets under way at Camps Drift on
Thursday morning will echo the races of old as paddlers will have a number of
additional obstacles to manage on their three day journey from Pietermaritzburg
The Dusi has always revolved around the participants taking on the
prevailing conditions as they find them and with a highly charged and
competitive field assembled for the race, the three day classic looks set to
reward one of the trio of stars that best adapts to the “old school” Dusi that
looks to be looming large on the race’s radar.
“We look forward to yet another breath-taking event as the most adventurous
paddle off against each other in the epic Dusi Canoe Marathon. Our support
for the sport reaffirms our belief that adventure is at the heart of innovation
and this is one of many platforms on which we seek to make a lasting connection
with our clients,” says Howard Arrand, KZN Provincial Head of FNB Business.
The race promises to test every aspect of the paddlers Dusi armoury, from the
usual portaging skills and technical river tests, with additional curveballs
coming in the form of explosive growth of hyacinth during the summer.
The prize money in the build up to the race has been shared amongst three
paddlers - arguably what the podium is going to look like at the end of the
three days of paddling.
Euro Steel/Red Bull’s Sbonelo Khwela won the Umpetha Challenge as well as the
coveted 50 Miler Canoe Marathon, presented by StaminaGro.
These two Khwela wins were straddled by Euro Steel’s Andy Birkett who took home
the honours at the Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon, presented by Parklane
Multiple marathon world champion Hank McGregor threw his hat into the Dusi ring
early in the summer and it did not take the Euro Steel/Kayak Centre ace long to
sounds his intentions with a win at the crucial Campbell’s Farm to Dusi Bridge
race in January.
Defending K1 and K2 champion Andy Birkett is hunting down a seventh Dusi crown in 2017. If the 26-year-old should win it puts him in and
among some of the greats of the race with an incredible seven wins in eight
years of paddling.
A 2017 win will see Birkett join the ‘Dusi Duke’ Martin Dreyer on seven wins -
making them tied the second most decorated paddlers of the prestigious race
behind the late, great Graham Pope-Ellis, who won 15 titles.
The field contesting the gold medals is, true to form, highly competitive, and
includes the Hungarian K2 world champion Adrian Boros, eager to test himself in
the unique and demanding environment of the Dusi.
It seems that the women’s title race might be slightly more straight forward
than the men’s with only two serious candidates raising their hands ahead of
the 120km journey from the province’s capital to the Indian Ocean.
Euro Steel team-mates Abby Solms and Bridgitte Hartley are set to fight it out
for the overall ladies honours with the former searching for that elusive K1
title after she broke her Dusi duck in 2016 with a K2 victory.
Solms’ form going into the Dusi has been impressive with wins at all of her
build-up races. Hartley, who has never done a K1 Dusi, has been working very
hard on familiarising herself with conditions and the unique challenge of
The battle for the final step on the women’s podium could be an interesting one
with any one of a half dozen paddlers capable of laying claim to the bronze
Junior paddler Christie Mackenzie showed her prowess coming second to Hartley
at the Umpetha Challenge and third behind Solms and Hartley at the Ozzie
The race has attracted a field of well over a thousand Dusi enthusiasts keen to
test themselves against the annual migration down the uMsundusi and uMngeni
Rivers. Many will be familiar with the tough conditions that look set to
challenge the field as they hanker back to the halcyon days of the famous race
prior to the introduction of water releases.
Five-time winner of the mixed doubles category at the Dusi from 1981-85 Andre
Hawarden knows the Dusi of old and having been treated to all Dusi conditions
he is embracing the challenge of the Dusi returning to its roots.
“I’m stoked that the Dusi’s got its mojo back! From being a predictable three
day sprint where everyone knew what to expect, we are back to a race of
question marks and quick decisions, just like the old day’s pre-dam releases!”
Euro Steel’s Hawarden said.
“We will have to think on our feet in this race, we don’t know what the water
level will be, and we don’t know where the hyacinth blocks will be, so we will
just have to make decisions as we go.
“It takes me back to the early days when we just took as it came; the Dusi was
the Dusi, no matter what, the race went on.”
More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za