The Dusi Canoe Marathon was founded in 1951, and covers roughly 120km between the cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban in KwaZulu-Natal on the East Coast of South Africa.
It is the biggest canoeing event on the African continent, and one of the world’s most popular river marathons, attracting between 900 and 1600 paddlers each year.
Paddlers can choose between normal marathon K1s, K2s or even K3s (yes a K4 has even finished the Dusi). These boats need to be of robust construction to be able to take the knocks dished out by the rocky river, and must have an overstern rudder. Paddlers must wear a splashcover (spraydecks) and lifejackets (PFDs) and, if very full river conditions occur, will be required to wear helmets. Paddlers traditionally make provision for their own hydration, and carry enough fluids for each stage of the race. The organisers provide 3 hydration stations each day.
For South African paddlers, the race requires each entrant to be AR rated (having passed a basic proficiency test and then the required number of C and B rated river races), as well as successfully completing a number of qualifying races.
International entrants are exempt from these requirements, but will be required to prove that they are proficient paddlers with suitable experience on at least Grade 2 rivers, and to prove that they are currently in good physical condition.
The race is held in February every year, to take advantage of the summer rainfalls. Temperatures can be extreme, often exceeding 40 degrees Celsius in the valleys.
The race starts on the Msunduzi River that runs through Pietermaritzburg and includes a number of weirs and Grade 1 to Grade 2+ rapids using water released from Henley Dam. At roughly the halfway point of the race the Msunduzi River meets the far larger uMngeni River and the river becomes more challenging, with some rapids rated Grade 3+, and some of the trickier rapids like Island 2 is portaged by most of the field. Most of the large rapids can be portaged if desired.
Safety crews and divers are stationed at some of the major obstacles and rapids. The route is not marked and the onus is on the paddlers to learn the route and the safe lines down the more demanding rapids and weirs.
The race is unique in that it includes numerous portages where the paddlers carry their craft over hills, either to cut out unrunnable rapids and cataracts, or to eliminate long loops in the river. Most of these portages are through thick bush on steep and undulating terrain, and several of them are around 4km in length.
There are several seconding stations on portages during each leg of the race where seconds (friends or family) provide water and sports drinks, and in some cases food as well.
Stage One of the race is 42km long, from Camps Drift in the city of Pietermaritzburg to Dusi Bridge, a remote area outside Cato Ridge close to Nagle dam. Most paddlers exit the valley after their stage and stay in local accommodation or return to either Durban or Pietermaritzburg. It is possible to stay in tents at the overnight stop.
Stage Two is the longest and hardest stage, 46km from Dusi Bridge to Msinsi Resort on Inanda dam outside Hillcrest, and ends with 11km of flatwater on the dam. The overnight stop is well suited to camping and also hosts some entertainment in the early evening of Day Two. Hillcrest and Durban are nearby and most paddlers leave the valley after their stage to stay in nearby accommodation.
Stage Three is 36km from Inanda dam to Blue Lagoon in Durban, starting with 4km of flatwater on Inanda dam and ending with 10km of flatwater on the tidal estuary into the finish. Each finisher receives a Dusi medal and a commemorative race garment. The race prize giving takes place at Blue Lagoon after the final stage.