The Dusi (a highlight of the year from my part of the world)

January 14, 2009

I was born and raised in KwaZulu Natal, a province on the east coast of South Africa. The two biggest cities in the province are Durban and Pietermaritzburg, and two major sporting events involving these two cities take place every year: the Comrades Marathon (run between the two cities), and the Dusi Canoe Marathon (paddled in Canoes [Kayaks] between the two cities). Both events are the most popular of their kind in the country, and draw competitors from all over South Africa and the world.   

The Dusi is held over a period of three days, with each day having a defined beginning and end. The first day is 45 km long, including roughly 15 km of “portaging” with the canoe (carrying it cross-country). There are shorter portaging sections on day 2 and 3. Day 2 is also 45 km and ends with a 10 km stretch of flat water on the Inanda Dam. Day 3 is 35km of clean cold water let out from the dam. That adds up to a total of 125 km over the three days! There are several sections with large rapids (with names like “The Graveyard!”), particularly on days 2 and 3. One of the rules of the race is that you must finish in the boat you started in – so a number of people cross the finish line in semi-submarines “bandaged” together with duct tape and branches for splints. Competitors have a choice to either compete in a K1 (a single person canoe) or K2 (a two person canoe). The current record stands at around 8 hours (over the three race days).

My step father, Crispin, has run the Comrades and paddled the Dusi a ridiculously high amount of times each (and consequently, he still does not have one ounce of fat on his body! He’ll be a Larry Kuechlin at 70!). My sister, Kerry, first partnered with him in the Dusi when she was in high school. I forget how many she’s done now, but she’s getting up there herself… I have many memories from “seconding” the Dusi – driving from one point where you can see the paddlers to the next, much of it along dirt roads in beautiful African bush, where the only human settlements are very rural and simple…

This Thursday through Saturday, my sister and stepdad will be paddling again! : )

Here are a few more interesting points about the Dusi (remember, this is Africa!):

  • Concern is expressed almost every year about how healthy it is to paddle in this river. Informal settlements with no sanitation fill the valley through which this river runs… It’s most dangerous after heavy rains, when there’s heavy run off from the surrounding hills. “Dusi Guts” is the “affectionate” term for the vomiting and diarherrea often experienced after swallowing water when “taking a swim” (a softer way of saying you fell out of your boat!). Every so often the race is in danger of being cancelled because of concerns for cholera (see here). 
  • The Dusi is also occasionally in danger of being stopped because of concerns over crocodiles in the river! There are generally no crocs in this section of river, but every so often some show up – whether pets that were released when they got too big, or adults that have swum in from further afield. An article from just a couple weeks ago is pretty spine chilling though, if you ask me. Read it here.

So… my sister and step dad will have a blast. But please pray they don’t drown, knock their heads on rocks in any big rapids, die of Dusi Guts, or get eaten by crocs… Thanks!


Here are a few pics of them from previous years:


This weir in Pietermaritzburg, not far from the start, is one of the first major challenges of the race. 


   There are many major rapids along the 3 day route.


Though this is from a different race, cross-country portaging through country like this is a big part of the Dusi. 


The finish in Durban. Less than a mile away, the river meets the Indian Ocean.

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