Take 5

Dusi Marathon

Words: Angus Powers
Photography: David Fisher

Three days on the river, tackling one of the world’s toughest canoe marathons


The Dusi Canoe Marathon has no equal: three days of racing from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, covering 120km, which includes as much as 20km of portaging through the African bush. For Sbonelo Khwela from nearby Shongweni Dam, who won the 2014 Dusi in a K2 with Andy Birkett, the goal this year was an elusive K1 title. “My plan was to come first,” says Khwela. “I spent almost a whole year focused on trying to win Dusi.”

Take 5


You might paddle by yourself, but you can’t win Dusi alone. Your seconding team provides crucial information on the progress of your rivals, as well as the only opportunity to refuel and keep cool in temperatures in excess of 40ºC. “I’m always happy to see my seconds,” says Khwela. “They get me motivated and tell me where I must push if the other guys in the race are looking tired.”

Take 5


The demands of portaging – steep uphills, lung-busting flats and sharp descents, all done with a boat on your shoulder – are not to be underestimated. Khwela’s prowess is no secret. “Running is my strength,” he says. “I’m a natural runner. It’s not easy with the boat, but I’m used to it. I rely on the run to close big gaps, or if I’m pulling away, that’s where I can make the other guys suffer.”

Take 5


Whether it’s powering over flat water, shooting rapids, enduring headwinds or having to instantly decide on the fastest, safest channels, the Dusi is an unrelenting test of every canoeist’s river knowledge and resilience. “I enjoy paddling on the river, compared to the flat water,” says Khwela, referring to the 14km pull across Inanda Dam that closes Day Two. “Inanda Dam always kills me! It’s long and flat, and you’re already tired when you get there. It’s a big mental challenge.”

Take 5


On the final stage of the 2015 Dusi, Khwela posted the day’s fastest time to wrap up an overall third-place finish, and he received a hero’s welcome at the finish line at Blue Lagoon from his wife and busloads of supporters. With two of his Change A Life Academy training partners also finishing in the top 10, it’s clear how much of an inspirational figure Khwela is in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. “They believe in me,” he says simply.

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