Paddlers manage despite low waters

2017-02-18 20:02
Second placed Christie Mackenzie (17) of Epworth High School hugs her mom Jo at the finish of the Dusi Canoe Marathon at Blue Lagoon in Durban on Saturday.

Second placed Christie Mackenzie (17) of Epworth High School hugs her mom Jo at the finish of the Dusi Canoe Marathon at Blue Lagoon in Durban on Saturday. (Ian Carbutt)

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Being at the finish of the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon every year, one point always strikes home and that is how tough, determined and resilient paddlers are. They may look small and wily, but they are strong and have reserves of grit and resolve that most people are never able to find.

This year’s Dusi rammed the point home. Our paddlers are the unsung heroes of the sporting world. South Africa’s paddlers have always excelled on the world stage, yet they are in the shadow of the mainstream sports such as cricket rugby and soccer. And it’s not only the top paddlers who need to be admired. Three days negotiating a river, taking on rapids, portages and tricky sections demands focus and the will to accomplish something. This year’s race was no exception and in fact, it has been deemed the toughest Dusi ever on record.

Insufficient rains meant low water level and while certain parts of the course had decent water on the first two days, the final day was like visiting hell on earth. Temperatures in the valley had the mercury topping out at 44 degrees and this where more running was required than normal. Watching the finishers, many had massive, open welts on their shoulders, an indication of what they had been through. Another interesting observation was no splash covers one the boats as there just wasn’t enough water to warrant any.

Brett Austin Smith, general manager of Natal Canoe Club, the organisers of the race, said they had to initiate low level rules at the start of the final day. “I looked at the water below Inanda Dam around 5am and was astounded at how low it was. By 5.45 am, the rules were implemented,” he said. “We had developed these rules for such a scenario and in a nutshell, paddlers were on the run from Tops Needle to the Burma Road takeout, so bad was the water.”

Paddlers had to negotiate hyacinth and more low water at Pumphouse and seasoned Dusi Rats were coming ashore at the finish all saying the same words: “What a tough day. This is my toughest race ever.”

When the top finishers utter similar words, admiration for the paddlers knows no bounds. Men’s winner Andy Birkett said: “There was a lot of running on the final day and it was a matter of holding everything together for three days. I hoped for water but you only know what you will get once you are out there. Considering the conditions and elements this year, I am proud of my win.”

Hank McGregor, who comes back year after year but can never quite reach the top spot, said he would now be focusing on surf-skiing, with the World Champs later this year. “At least the ocean never runs out of water and I can at least paddle,” he said.

Blue Lagoon was a myriad of colour at the finish with a healthy turnout of supporters. Tents and banners added to the colour and despite a healthy headwind for the paddlers, nothing was going to stop them reaching their goals with the finish in sight.

This was their moment and every handclap and shout of encouragement was more than deserved. There was the official after party later on across the river where the paddlers were entitled to free beer for two hours. It was the least they deserved.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  dusi canoe marathon

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