Umpetha in his sights

2014-10-16 00:00

VALLEY of a Thousand Hills paddling hero Thulani Mbanjwa hopes to be in good enough health to ensure he takes the start line of Sunday’s Umpetha Challenge in Pieter­maritzburg as he looks to carry on from exactly where he left off at the recent Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon.

The Build it/Williams Hunt star strung together two of his most consistent days at the Eastern Cape event ever over the weekend, which saw him achieve a career best seventh place and finish in the company of some of the country’s top river marathon paddlers.

“The field was very strong and a lot of the top guys were coming back from Marathon World Champs so they were in good form and I didn’t even expect to be even in the top 10,” said Mbanjwa.

“So, I was very happy with how Fish went for me, but I’m feeling flat and the body is so tired still so hopefully I’m not getting sick and I will recover before Sunday.

“I’m keen for the Umpetha though, if I manage to recover in time,” he added.

Mbanjwa first burst onto the South African river marathon scene almost a decade ago and became the first black paddler ever to win the prestigious Dusi Canoe Marathon after successfully partnering with Dusi Duke Martin Dreyer in 2008.

Since then, Mbanjwa has become an idol to many of the country’s emerging development stars although he has lacked regular top performances outside of the Msunduzi and Mngeni Rivers.

His superb 2014 Fish result will bolster the 31-year-old’s confidence ahead of his participation in this weekend’s Umpetha, the first KZN-based 2015 Dusi preparation race Mbanjwa will tackle this season.

“Everyone is starting to think about next year’s Dusi, but other than the Ngwenya a couple of weeks ago where there was a water release from Henley Dam, there hasn’t been any water in the Msunduzi River so I haven’t been paddling on the Dusi route at all.

“So the Umpetha is a good opportunity to get back onto the Duzi river and paddle down places like Ernie Pearce Weir and Commercial Road, which we haven’t done in a long time.

“The Umpetha is a really tough race though because no one has been running with the boat up until now so at this stage it’s just about trying to survive on the portage for most of the guys, but the natural runners will always look to try open up a gap on the run and so staying with them after 18 km of hard, fast paddling can be difficult,” explained Mbanjwa.

With 2014 Dusi winner and regular doubles partner Sbonelo Khwela having already confirmed his participation in the event, Mbanjwa will need to be on top of his game should he wish to take home the lion’s share of the R36 000 prize pool thanks to the support of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport and Recreation.

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