10 up for Dusi King!
Aptly titled "Mr. Dusi" by the Kwazulu Natal press, Eurosteel's Howick born Andy Birkett won his 10th consecutive Dusi Canoe Marathon title over three days in a thrilling finish at Blue Lagoon in Durban on Saturday.
After his fourth K1 title in 2019, this year partnering with Khumbulani Nzimande in the K2 it was a maiden victory for the duo while it was Birkett's sixth title.
As the fourth-placed finisher in last year's K1 race, Nzimande ably stepped up to the challenge in replacing Birkett's K2 partner from the 2018 race, paddling legend Hank McGregor who did not compete due to illness.
Not without intense preparation, the duo had spent the last two and a half months training in East London where Nzimande had stayed at the Birkett family home with wife Nikki and baby Dave. "We are so lucky to have such a lovely paddling community and beautiful places to train between Gonubie and Nahoon," Birkett said.
The final day's racing saw them start with solid leads as 36 intrepid kilometres stood between them and victory. However they didn’t have it all their own way despite powering across the dam stretch that starts the day.
They increased their lead by forty seconds in the initial stages but lost that advantage when Nzimande couldn’t put his splash cover on in the Tops Needle rapid and they took on water.
From there they had to get out and empty which cost them around a minute as they got back in and powered home.
“It’s never plane sailing on the Dusi and you will always have some hiccups along the way,” Birkett said after the win. “It’s been such an incredible journey with Khumbulani and he was so tough and showed incredible temperament to step up every day. He was so strong and I think he got fitter as the days went on!”
A first Dusi title for the 24-year-old Nzimande was more than he could ever have dreamed of.
“I am so so so happy,” he said with a huge smile. “I am completely lost for words, it’s been an amazing experience. Over the last few months, I have learnt so much from Andy and have changed so much.”
Sbonelo Khwela and Thulani Mbanjwa had all the work to do on the final day as they put in a near-flawless performance but couldn’t close the gap on the winners. “We just tried to put the hammer down from the beginning of the day. With Andy and Khumbulani not making any big mistake it meant that it was going to be so hard for us to catch them," Mbanjwa said.
The Capetonian pair of Lance Kime and Shaun Rubenstein surprised all to hold on to their third place and claim the last spot on the podium.
Being Birkett's third title as an East Londoner, local interest in the Dusi has grown among paddlers with no less than seven locals participating. They were Matthew Fenn, Richard Tebutt, Bevan Manson, Greg Shone, Rudy Le Roux and Jessica and Grant Pollock.
Unfortunately, their final placings were unavailable at the time of going to print.
The ladies race saw the Haw sisters, Tamika and Bianca, maintain their significant lead in the race on a mistake-free day into Durban and a first title for the Southern Drakensberg sisters.
Cana Peek and Christie Mackenzie were going to have to rely on some misfortune for the boat ahead of them to make up the deficit, however, that was not to be as they came in second. A third strong day of paddling from Jenna Ward and Kyeta Purchase saw them stroke home to the bottom spot on the podium.
In concluding, Birkett thanked his local training group "The Tortoise Squad" of Hen Roos, the Fenns, Jordy Malherbe, Bevan Manson, Andrew Carter and Brendon Thompson, "We are fortunate to have such a great group of passionate paddlers who support each other with our different racing goals, in their own right they are all accomplished athletes."