Following a concerted effort to improve his river racing skills, Matt Fenn’s rise through the ranks has been dramatic and he has now placed himself amongst the 2023 Dusi Canoe Marathon contenders for the three-day classic from 16-18 February .
Fenn, who is based in East London, and is a household surfski paddling name, shifted his focus to the riverracing in 2022 and showed his skills at the Fish River Canoe Marathon where he finished third.
With three Dusi finishes to his name and without a top twenty finish to his name, Fenn turned heads recently at the pre-Dusi qualifiers where he beat his training partner and Dusi legend Andy Birkett to the SMG 50 Miler title.
“I made a conscious effort to get better at river paddling last year and I did well at the Fish,” the Euro Steel/Fenn Kayaks athlete said.
“I have been training hard and it’s gone really well so far and I’ve learnt so much from Andy (Birkett).
“He’s been great in giving me advice and helping me in training.”
Fenn’s river credentials took a significant spike when he finished third overall behind Birkett and Hamish Lovemore at the recent Drak Challenge and continues to make strides in the KZN river racing scene.
“I’m really chuffed with my Drak result and it was great racing Andy and Hamish.
“I think I’m getting into the right frame of mind for Dusi.
“Dusi is very different and there is a lot of running but I think that is where I am strong; not as strong as some of the other guys but I’m hoping I can hold my own.”
Fenn won the the 50 Miler, an important pre-Dusi gauge, beating Birkett and Msawenkosi Mtolo to the line. He followed that up with a strong showing at the Inanda Dam to Durban, which ended up being a training paddle to recce the river.
“Little John [a rapid on the river] and Pumphouse [a rapid on the river] have changed but otherwise the rapids are the same.
“What has changed (after the floods) is the markers that that you use for your lines. Trees and islands that used to be markers are gone.”
Fenn finds himself firmly on the front row of the seeded paddlers going into this year’s Dusi and hopes that he can hit his goal.
“I want a gold medal this year,” he mentioned assuredly.
“A top ten was the original goal and if I can better than that then I will be very happy!”