The Dusi Canoe Marathon is a 3 day 120km canoeing race from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg down to Blue Lagoon in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal. The event has been running since 1951 and in its hay day attracted 2 thousand paddlers a year looking to finish the iconic race. Not everyone is familiar with this event so let’s take a look at some if the key details of the race, history, and who the favourites to win are.
Canoeing Sport and Dusi Race Format
The craft used at the MyLife Dusi are 5.2 meter long fibreglass boats for K1 and 6.5 meter long kayaks for K2 racing (K represents “Kayak” and the digit represents the number of paddlers in the craft). There are also K3 and K4 designs used but these are not very popular as their length makes them difficult to manoeuvre and portage as well as increasing the number of people who must to agree to paddle with you, which can be quite a point of preference amongst paddlers. There have been reports of a K5 boat being used on the dams of Johannesburg but this is a novelty and resultant of bored people with excess cash flow, we can’t see anything of substance becoming of it.
The format of racing at the MyLife Dusi is classic shoulder-to-shoulder style where the field start off in batches of 50 boats seeded fastest to slowest. The paddlers race downriver and their time stops when they cross the finish line each day. A unique element to the racing is the elapsed start times for the fastest paddlers on day 2 and 3. Anyone finishing within approximately 40 minutes of the leader will be started in their precise finishing order with the same time gaps that they finished the previous day with. This can make for interesting racing as paddlers know that if they get caught or catch the person ahead of them then they have lost or gained that position.
Portages are also a common feature of the Dusi’s challenge. Some sections of river that are unnavigable in the fibreglass craft or meander excessively are cut out by carrying boats overland for up to 5km at a time. This adds an extra dose of physicality and multi-discipline fitness to the racing. The top competitors will be running 4 minute kilometres with a boat on their shoulder!
History of the Dusi
“The idea of racing down the uMsundusi and uMngeni Rivers was born during World War II when Ian Player, sitting around a campfire in Italy, tired and homesick, came up with the idea of formalising a race downriver from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.”
“The idea of racing down the uMsundusi and uMngeni Rivers was born during World War II when Ian Player, sitting around a campfire in Italy, tired and homesick, came up with the idea of formalising a race downriver from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.” – Dusi history page. 8 paddlers started at the first race in 1951 and from there it grew and morphed into the 3 day classic we have today with MyLife as the title sponsor and the athletes, craft and equipment fine tuned to the demands of the race!
The MyLife Dusi Course
The race is broken up into 3 days. Day 1 is a 42km stretch from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Dusi Bridge just North East of Cato Ridge. The course takes in classic obstacles such as the Ernie Pearce and MyLife Weirs as well as Mission Rapid and 3 major portages totalling just over 10km of running with the boat.
Day 1 Records:
Men’s K1 – Andy Birkett / 2015 – 2:36:26
Women’s K1 – Robyn Owen (Kime) / 2013 – 3:11:21
Men’s K2 – Martin Dreyer and Thulani Mbanjwa / 2008 – 2:32:47
Women’s K2 – Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky / 2012 – 2:59:33
Day 2 comes in at 44km long and culminates in a 10km flat water effort on Inanda dam. This stage can feature some of the hardest rapids in the race depending on water levels (which are looking to be very high in 2022) as well as a steep portage over Nqumeni hill 17km into the day.
Day 2 Records:
Men’s K1 – Ant Stott / 2007 – 2:52:53
Women’s K1 – Robyn Owen (Kime) / 2013 – 3:18:58
Men’s K2 – Ant Stott and WG Thompson / 2008 – 2:44:14
Women’s K2 – Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky / 2012 – 3:09:24
Day 3 is Inanda Dam to Durban, 36km and typically with a healthy water release from the dam making it a very enjoyable stretch of fun rapids until the final flat water grind along Blue Lagoon to the finish.
Day 3 Records:
Men’s K1 – Lance Kime / 2013 – 2:15:38
Women’s K1 – Abby Adie (Solms) / 2013 – 3:11:21
Men’s K2 – Deon Bruss and Martin Dreyer / 2002 – 2:09:25
Women’s K2 – Abby Adie and Anna Adamova / 2014 – 2:30:05
Overall Course Records:
Men’s K1 – Andy Birkett / 2015 – 7:55:35
Women’s K1 – Robyn Owen (Kime) / 2013 – 9:07:16
Men’s K2 – Martin Dreyer and Thulani Mbanjwa / 2008 – 7:33:24
Women’s K2 – Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky / 2012 – 8:41:59
The Competitors of the MyLife Dusi
There are a few household names (canoeing households that is) around at the moment who are known for being top contenders year in and year out at the Dusi as well as a few new players establishing themselves in the runnings at this iconic event. Let’s take a look at who to look at for in 2022.
The women’s race is looking to be tightly contested in 2022, given the results at the pre-races, between the combination of Christie Mackenzie with Jordan Peak and Bianca Haw with Abby Solms. Christie and Jordan were certainly looking to be the dominant duo on paper but 2 very close finishes between the two boats at the pre-Dusi races has the women’s race win very much up for grabs!
All 4 of these paddlers have stood on the top step of the Dusi podium in the last 6 years, Christie twice in K1, Abby in K1 and K2, and Bianca and Jordan once each with their respective sisters Tamika and Cana in K2 years! The pedigree is there; they all know how to win. How the race will play out? We’ll have to watch and see! Jenna Nisbet with Saskia Hockly and the Pippa McGregor / Bridgitte Hartley boat are next in the runnings and each with strong performances in recent years, worth keeping an eye on.
In the men’s field there are a couple of names who you will recognise from the course records listed above. Thulani Mbanjwa and the most dominant paddler of recent times, Andrew Birkett. Andy has won the last 8 Dusi Canoe Marathons to date with the K2 years having each been with a different partner. Skip a year looking back from that and he has another 3 wins on the trot making for 11 in total. He knows what he’s doing here.
This year Andy’s in a boat with the 2021 u23 champ and junior record holder David Evans who took 3rd overall at last year’s event. A fearsome combination who are undoubtedly the pair to beat.
Mbanjwa has enlisted Msawenkosi Mtolo in his K2 this year, also a younger paddler who finished 5th overall in 2021. They’ll have their work cut out for them (as will any other duo facing Andy and Dave) but we expect them to be within touching distance should anything trip up the favourites, and as we know with the Dusi, anything could happen on 3 days of technical river paddling and portaging.
Other combinations to look out for are Hank McGregor (2 X Dusi winner, 11 X World Marathon Champ, legend of the sport) and young gun Matthew Millward, Stewart Little and Bongani Ntinga, Banetse Nkhoesa and Siseko Ntondini, and Khumbulani Nzimande (2021 4th K1, 2020 Winner K2) with Mpilo Zondi. As always with the Dusi, there are likely to be a few wildcards in the mix to keep things exciting! Our money is on the Andy / Dave and Christie / Jordan boats for the 2022 titles, but the race won’t be without its shakeups and surprises.
How to Follow the 2022 MyLife Dusi
Live broadcast of the 2022 MyLife Dusi will be done by WILD AIR on the @dusicanoemarathon and @wildairsports Instagram Stories. Follow along there for the live racing updates, athlete interviews, race highlights, daily images, and all other content from the event!