Rowe: A true Dusi pioneer
Pietermaritzburg – Gordon “Gordie” Rowe will forever be remembered as a multiple Dusi champion who had more influence in shaping the route of the present Dusi Canoe Marathon than any other person in the race’s history.
Rowe was a Highveld product who came to call Kwazulu-Natal his home later in life and a man who along with partner Harry Fisher dominated the Dusi Canoe Marathon from 1959 to 1964 registering five out of the six victories in this period. Rowe was not only remembered for his Dusi achievements but also for the innovations that he brought to the race.
Being from the former Transvaal the pair of Rowe and Fisher were unlikely candidates to win the Dusi against the more fancied local partnerships but through powerful paddling and superb fitness the combination were able to overcome all of the local pairs to break the record in their first and subsequently breaking the record on two other occasions.
The two paddlers competed together in the days when paddlers were forced to enter in pairs and race the entire race together.
Rowe and Fisher narrowly missed out on the record in 1963 in what was seen as the lowest water level the race had seen in its 13-year history. The pair ended some six minutes outside the previous year’s record setting time of 11 hours and 24 minutes.
Rowe’s influence on the race went far beyond his canoeing achievements but it was a particular act that him and Fisher performed that changed the race forever. In 1963 the combination pioneered the Burma Road portage, which is now seen as one of the more gruelling during the race and it was this portage that the two Highveld residents took that was the big difference for them. The Burma Road portage is now a mainstay in the race thanks to Rowe and Fisher.
As an administrator Rowe had his most influence on the race and it was him that came up with the proposal that all paddlers were to paddle the confluence section of the river where the uMsundusi meets the uMngeni. This is seen as a fairly technical section to the river and he thought that it was important for paddlers to paddle this section because it was a great way of testing their river paddling skills. This other dimension to the race meant that the race was as much about paddling as it was about strong portaging.
Rowe relocated to the Kwazulu-Natal coast where he started the kayak manufacturing business Kayak Centre, which was to become one of the largest canoeing brands in the country. He later immigrated to New Zealand where he passed away at the end of 2012.