Pietermaritzburg - Former Olympic sprinter and Marathon world champion Shaun Rubenstein will be setting off on his eighth Dusi Canoe Marathon on Thursday, February 19 pioneering a brand new sit-on-top style canoeing that has just be legalised by Canoeing South Africa.
Rubenstein (Brent Oil/Carbonology Sport) finished third in the 2009 K1 Dusi and is passionate about the opportunity to race the prototype craft that is built much like a surfski, but with an overstern rudder and conforms to the kayak size regulations set by the International Canoe Federation (ICF).
Previously these craft were declared ineligible for marathon racing as they include bailers that allow any water that gathers in the foot wells and seat well to drain out through the hull, and the ICF rules insist that the hull of the craft is unbroken by accessories such as bailers.
Canoeing South Africa however has modified its rules to allow these craft in local events after seeing the advantages from a safety point of view and the opportunity to get more people involved in popular river races such as the Dusi Canoe Marathon.
“I am so excited about this Dusi!” said Rubenstein, who lives and works in Cape Town. “I have always loved the Dusi, but this year it feels totally new again.”
Rubenstein said that he was on track with his paddling and running and driven by a competitiveness that his adversaries have come to know and respect, and said that if everything goes according to plan he was hoping to finish in the top ten overall.
“But it is more than just my goals for this year’s Dusi,” he went to say. “I honestly believe that this is the way that paddling should be moving, and I hope that by racing the Dusi in this sit-on-top, I can help promote this innovation.
“From a safety point of view it is fantastic. If you capsize you aren’t swimming down a rapid with a boat full of water, so the risk of damaging the boat, wrapping it or any entrapment is drastically reduced.
“You don’t wear a splashcover, which also removes another potential way of getting snagged,” added Rubenstein, who survived a scare on the Lowveld Croc when his splashcover hooked on a tree.
He said that he would be paddling one of the boats built by Carbonology Sport in Port Elizabeth that was successfully trialled at the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon in September last year, where Richard von Wildermann raced to a top ten placing.
“I was going to ask Hein van Rooyen, who builds the boats, about whether it would be strong enough for a Dusi-style river until I heard that he had raced one successfully on the Lowveld Croc, which is one of the toughest, rockiest rivers we use.
“As long as I drive properly, I am sure it will stand up to the beating a boat takes on a Dusi.
"I have full faith in the quality of the craft that Hein turns out.”
Rubenstein said that he had made several modifications to the boat to make it more suitable to the long portages that make or break any aspirant Dusi gold medallist's campaign.
“I have fitted handles to the side of the cockpit area because it is harder to carry that an open cockpit K1,” said Rubenstein. “I have also had to fit tie-downs to hold my paddle on the portages.”
“It is going to be a fascinating experiment,” he added. “I should be faster getting going at the end of each portage because I don’t have to fit a splashcover.
"The boat weighs exactly 12kgs, so it is no heavier than any other top paddler's boat.”
“It looks like we are heading into a low Dusi, and I think that will also suit me in a sit-on-top,” he said.
Rubenstein was full of praise for the bold decision by the national federation to change its rules to pave the way for sit-on-tops to assume their place at major river marathons alongside other K1 craft.
“It was a very forward thinking move,” he said. “There are so many people who paddle surfskis who are suddenly seeing an attractive way to take part in river races.
“It is a great and safe way to introduce novices to the sport and I am convinced that this is a way that canoeing can grow and develop,” he said.
The 64th edition of the Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon in Durban from Thursday 19 to Saturday 21 February 2015. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za