15-17 February 2024

Solms and Behn combine youth and experience into a winning combination

Pietermaritzburg – Abby Solms and Jessica Behn are hoping youth and experience can lift them to the 2024 Dusi Canoe Marathon title next week.

The 34-year-old Solms and her 18-year-old partner started paddling together in mid-December last year and are now touted as firm favourites to take the women’s race in this year’s event which takes place on 15 to 17 February.

Solms has three Dusi titles to her name – two doubles and a single – and so many second places she has lost count, while Behn, a matric pupil at Epworth in Pietermaritzburg, where she is the captain of canoeing, will be attempting the three-day classic for the fourth time.

Behn paddled her first Dusi in 2021 with her Dad Gary, and the following year in a K2 race with Jenna Goddard won the U18 title. Last year, during her first K1 race, she was forced to retire early in the event, soon after the start of the first day when she fractured her ankle after stepping into a hole.

But, this duo has put all mishaps behind them and, while clear favourites among the pundits, are modest in their thinking and approach to the race. They have enjoyed the ideal preparation, winning the Kindo Covers Ozzie Gladwin, the SMG 50 Miler and the Kayak Craft Bishopstowe to Dusi Bridge races, laying an ideal platform for what will be their biggest challenge.

“We hooked up as paddling partners and committed to Dusi just before Christmas last year,” said Solms. “There was no pressure to go out and win everything. We just wanted to have good, clean races with no expectations and we were surprised at how it has all panned out.”

Solms admits she feels like a motherly figure to Behn, but has high praise for her young partner’s skills and approach.

“She is a good all-rounder, a strong paddler and runner, the ideal person to have as the `engine’ of the boat behind me,” she said. “We have trained well together and although we haven’t done much tripping on the route, we are ready to roll with the changes and concentrate on getting to Durban in good shape.”

Both paddlers took on the recent Drak Challenge, Solms finishing fifth overall and Behn eighth, second in the women’s U23 category and the first schoolgirl home.

“Abby and I have just clicked. Once we are on the water, we work well together and we are ready to give Dusi our best shot, always remembering that nothing is certain and anything can happen on those three days – as I discovered last year,” said Behn.

A new start from Bishopstowe, plus changes to the river will provide its own challenges to conquer, but, with Solms’ experience and maturity, backed by Behn’s youthful approach and determination, the duo should be able to keep any opposition at bay.