Dusi Bridge – While the racing snakes fought their way to new stage records on the opening stage of the 2015 Dusi Canoe Marathon, the ‘fish and chips’ of the latter batches toiled away in the heat of the day as they made their way from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Dusi Bridge.
Opting for a more social Dusi than previous years, elite stars Hank McGregor, Abby Adie and Ant Stott raised the bar in the mixed doubles category in 2015 as they sat up and took in the view while paddling with family members who’ve previously been on the river banks supporting them every step of the way.
There was little stopping five time Marathon World Champion Hank McGregor (Jeep Team/Kayak Centre) and wife Pippa though as the pair formed a potent partnership that saw them surge from G batch – the Dr. Ian Player Memorial Charity Batch – to a remarkable fiftieth overall at the end of the opening stage.
“Ah man, that was fun!” said McGregor afterwards. “We had such a jol out there together!”
“It was so strange having people in front of us on both the water and the portages but being able to take the time to interact with the others and chat to each other was great and to have finished in the top 50 is a real bonus!” he added.
Hungarian Adriàn Boros, back for his second attempt at the three day race after his K2 debut with Gàbor Màthé in 2014, had a solid day out on the water but was found out on the portages.
“I’m running fit but not South African running fit!” he chuckled. “Running with a boat is very different and difficult!”
“I enjoyed myself today though; I had a good start and was first in B batch going through Pietermaritzburg but then I had a small swim at Taxi Rapid. It was only a small swim that cost me about a minute though.
“I had hoped for a top 20 finish but we will just have to see how tomorrow goes first,” said the Popes Canoe Centre paddler.
After Corran Addison and his fellow stand up paddleboarders successfully conquered the 120km event in 2014, the opening stage of the 64th edition of the Dusi saw no fewer than nine SUP paddlers on the water.
Slater Trout got the better of his more experienced counterparts on the opening stage and crossed the line first, despite under-estimating the task entirely.
“There is absolutely no way of preparing for this; that was brutal!” said Trout.
“I’ve come from a base of a lot of flatwater, because we just don’t have rivers like this back home, but its very different to this. I can’t believe we still have two more days to go!
“It has been great being out here in Africa though. It’s such a beautiful part of the world and we’re really grateful that the Dusi organisers have allowed us to be a part this great event!” he added.
Shaun Rubenstein gave it all to stay with the top 10 competitors early on however the former Marathon World Champ eventually crossed the line in 23rd position, an effort almost as commendable as his ingenuity to bring the worlds of river marathon racing and surfski closer together through a sit-on-top kayak.
Elite Athlete Development Programme competitor Nokukhanya Shange fought bravely to keep her goals of a junior girls podium finish alive however the heat and long portages were a telling factor.
The very tired yet still hugely determined young 17 year-old successfully reached the finish in fifth place in the junior girls’ contest and is still on track to become the youngest ever black female to complete a K1 Dusi.
Despite pre-race murmurs of a low Msundusi River on day one, no fewer than ten K3s took to the water on Thursday and made their way to Dusi Bridge.
The 2015 Dusi also paid special tribute to its legendary founder Dr. Ian Player who sadly passed away on 30 November 2014 and a series of celebratory tributes and ceremonies prior to the starter’s gun firing were well received by all in attendance.
Hugh Raw and Ian Ross, paddling canvas and wooden handcrafted boats similar to those used by Player and the rest of the race’s early pioneers to honour the race’s founder, were the final two across the finish line on the opening day having spent nearly eight long hours on the water in the sweltering heat.A little earlier in the day, Nigel Briggs ticked the first of three boxes in his quest to become just the seventh person to join the coveted club to have completed 40 Dusis while Ivan Willmot – better known as ‘Yellow Van Man’ – started his 50th year of service to the Dusi in proud fashion.
FNB Business CEO Mike Vacy-Lyle had a solid day out on the water, crossing the finish line in 4:15.24 before heading for the FNB hospitality lounge.
“FNB Business decided to sponsor the annual Dusi Canoe Marathon because we believe that it is in true partnerships that success becomes attainable. When you have a steep journey ahead of you – similar to some of those tough portages today – be it to grow your business, or participate in a challenge like the Dusi, it is a like-minded, skilled partner who can help you get to the next level and help you finish strong,” said Vacy-Lyle.
The second stage of the Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place on Friday 20 February from Dusi Bridge to Inanda Dam.
All images Anthony Grote / Gameplan Media