The Dusi canoe marathon, named after the Umsundusi River, takes place
annually during the month of January, and sees thousands of keen paddlers making
their way from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, much like the Comrades Marathon. The
race is the oldest of its kind in Africa, and is often noted as the toughest too
taking place over a time frame of three days.
Founded by renowned conservationist Ian Player, brother of golfing legend Gary Player, the first Dusi took place in 1951, and only saw a field of eight entrants participating. The race took a grueling six days to complete, and was filled with much drama. While making his way along the river, Player was bitten by a Night Adder. He managed to get himself to a local police station, and then collapsed. After receiving treatment for the bite, he then continued with the race, and went on to win it.
The original format of the race was carried out on a non stop basis, but the fifth race taking place in 1956 was set up over three stages as it still is today. Recent years has seen the return of a Non-Stop Dusi as a separate event for hardcore paddlers, with the three stage marathon attracting larger numbers of canoeists. One should not be mistaken though. The Dusi is definitely not for the faint hearted. As founder of the event Ian Player said, "No man who has done the 110 grueling miles can ever be the same again. The memory of the rapids, the steep hills and torturous paths, the aching backs and dry mouths, the burning sun and cold mist and rain, will forever remain in the mind."
The course takes participants through many fast flowing rapids, and extremely dangerous areas of protruding rocks, where racers have no alternative but to carry their canoes along unpassable stretches as far as fifteen kilometers. The route leads canoeists through some of the most remote rural settings in KwaZulu Natal, dotted with traditional homesteads and farmlands.
A portion of the money raised from entrance fees is allocated to the Valley Trust, which seeks to enrich the lives of the locals. A result of this has been the establishment of a canoeing school in the area, of which a number of students have competed in the race.The race finally draws to an end at Blue Lagoon in Durban, where the Umgeni River eventually meets the sea, and celebratory festivities, food stalls and prize ceremonies await the tired paddlers.
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