IN among the well over 1 000 paddlers who will start the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon at Camps Drift on 16 February are a handful of die-hard enthusiasts who have completed the race dozens of times and are itching to get stuck into what is likely to be a “classic Dusi challenge”.With the weather conditions and the effects of the harsh two-year drought set to define a tough, low-water race, many of the Dusi aficionados who are targeting their 30th and 40th medals say this is what they want from the country’s premier canoeing event.“We’ve been spoilt, there no doubt about that,” said four-time Dusi winner John Edmonds, who will be eyeing his 40 medal. “The essence of this race is to take it on as you find it, water or no water.”Whether racing hard for a top position or racing socially as many of the older paddlers do, the challenge of completing the 120 km, three-day classic remains the same for every participant.With the dams in the uMngeni catchment area severely depleted, there is no water release likely from Nagle or Inanda dams, and the race will be carried by the water coming out of the obsolete Henley Dam outside Pietermaritzburg for the first two days.Add to that the encroachment of water hyacinth and the participants in this year’s race may well find themselves doing more running than usual on the Dusi. For master paddler Alan France, who is aiming for his 30th Dusi medal, this comes with the territory.“This is the Dusi! You never know what you are going to get, and the fun part is just having to deal with it.“When I think back to the Dusi in the eighties, one of us ran most of the way while the other paddled the double through the empty river!” he said.“Whether it is in flood or bitterly low, there is such a great vibe about this event that it is a ‘must-do’ in my eyes.“The race is more about the spirit and camaraderie than times and results,” said France, who will be paddling with longstanding partner Russell Solomon. Mark Perrow is another former winner of the race who is going for his 30th Dusi medal. Originally part of a strong Gauteng racing group, Perrow is now settled on the KZN North Coast and says the Dusi is in his blood.“I have done five with my father-in-law, two with my wife and now I want to do two with my daughters,” said Perrow.“The greatest news ever is that I have my wife back as a second because I am doing it with my daughter Alice this year — it will be her first Dusi.“I hear it will be really low, which does make me nervous, but I know what racing a low Dusi is all about.“I raced in 1983 as a novice on a low river, in a home-made wild water boat that weighed nearly 25 kg. So I am not stressed.“When you aren’t racing for places or prizes, the Dusi is all about having fun, and that’s what I plan to do,” said Perrow.Paddlers with 20 or more finishes to their names are afforded the luxury of starting in special early morning batches reserved for the race’s most avid supporters.All eyes will be on Lyle Wheeler, who is levelling the record for the most race medals with the late “Dusi King” Graeme Pope-Ellis, with 46 finishes in a race that looks set to live up to its billing as the “ultimate canoe challenge” this year. - Gameplan Media.