With a last-minute change to the start venue, this year’s Dusi Canoe Marathon will have a different look as the paddlers compete for one of the most coveted titles in river paddling from Thursday to Saturday.
With rain predicted for the opening day on Thursday, paddlers will set off from the Bishopstowe Country Club and not the traditional start at Camps Drift Canal as organisers heed calls from environmental groups to avoid the Msundusi River through Pietermaritzburg.
The Mngeni River has also taken on a different shape. Following April’s floods the river has changed significantly and paddlers will need to keep their wits about them from the Confluence to Blue Lagoon as many landmarks and reference points have been washed away.
A change in start venue won’t change the excitement of the race as a number of paddlers try to dethrone the Dusi Chief Andy Birkett, who is lining up a tenth consecutive Dusi title. Considering his Dusi record is second only to Graham Pope-Ellis, Birkett’s form suggests that he will add to that tally and move a step closer to matching the Dusi King’s incredible record.
The Euro Steel ace won twice overseas in 2022 and then started 2023 with a win at the N3TC Drak Challenge to show he is in top form. He is already considered an all-time great in river racing circles, but the unassuming star from East London should further cement his place in the hall of fame with a win this week.
Heading into the three-day odyssey, the usual suspects are lining up to challenge Birkett with Team MyLife duo of Msawenkosi Mtolo and Thulani Mbanjwa just a couple of the names that will provide Birkett with a stern test.
In the Euro Steel stable, Dave Evans, who won the K2 title with Birkett in 2022, will be hoping for a podium finish this year, while Nqobile Makhanya is another paddler looking to put his stamp on the K1 race at the Dusi.
A training partner and Euro Steel team mate of Birkett’s, Matt Fenn, has come to the fore as a potential podium finisher after a strong KZN river season that included a win at the SMG 50 Miler and a third at the Drak Challenge.
Banetse Nkhoesa, Siseko Ntondini and Scott Little will also be names to watch out for during the race as they look to upset the more established stars over the three days of racing into Durban.
In the women’s race, Euro Steel’s Christie Mackenzie will start as the overwhelming favourite. Mackenzie has been in good form in the pre-Dusi races and will be hunting down a third consecutive K1 crown this year.
Despite Mackenzie’s favourites tag, Euro Steel team-mate Jordan Peek will provide a threat to the triple crown quest. Peek, who has a K2 winners medal, has mentioned how she would like to add the K1 title to her list of Dusi achievements.
The ever-green Bridgitte Hartley also comes into the conversation for potential women’s title. Olympic medallist Hartley has improved dramatically from a running and river tactics perspective, and will be hoping to pounce on any mistakes from other paddlers.
The 2023 Dusi Canoe Marathon is a race for the die-hards and with a healthy number of paddlers entered into this year’s race it still remains one of the premier races in the country.
Bishopstowe Country Club outside Pietermaritzburg will host the start of the 2023 Dusi Canoe Marathon on Thursday, 16 February.