There are various multi-day endurance events in South Africa, ranging from two days to two weeks, but arguably one of the most strenuous over three days is the Dusi Canoe Marathon. This iconic canoe race (started in 1951) covers 120km over three days (if you don’t get lost), linking the capital city Pietermaritzburg to the province’s largest metropole, Durban. It starts on the uMsindusi River that runs through Pietermaritzburg, taking in a number of weirs and Grade 1 to Grade 2+ rapids, powered by summer rainfall and often water released from Henley Dam.
Towards the middle of the race, the uMsindusi River meets the far larger uMngeni River and the course becomes more challenging, with some rapids rated Grade 3+. Some of the larger rapids can be portaged, should participants feel the need. Usually the competitors, often called Dusi Rats, use a K1, K2 or even K3 kayak (single, double and triple person boats). Fibreglass kayaks are by far the preferred boats for this race, being the ideal mix of speed, durability and stability. All boats are sit-down. Who would be crazy enough to stand when they could sit?
That situation changed in 2014. A handful of brave (or maybe just crazy) SUP (stand up paddleboard) athletes decided to tackle the race on their boards. Covering any kind of rapid on a SUP board is difficult enough, but covering the distance of the Dusi and the boat-eating rapids found in this race were going to be extremely challenging for this small group. During the race, competitors also do more than 25km of flatwater paddling, which after navigating rapids, tests all-round fitness to its limits.
Four men competed in their category: Corran Addison, Brendon Germain, Dean Botcher and Jon Ivins. All finished the race.
Corran took the win in the category in a time of 15h 48min 34sec.
And his fellow Standing Dusi Rats paddled across the line as follows:
2. Brendon Germaine 17h 35min 41sec
3. Jon Ivins 18h 07min 03sec
4. Dean Botcher 19h 33min 57sec
We spoke to Corran after his race: Congrats to you and your fellow SUPers for completing this feat! So, how long did you take to plan and prepare for your Dusi attempt?
Corran Preparation and training are two different things. I was in 2013’s northern hemisphere summer when I decided to do Dusi on a SUP with my mate Dean Botcher and started to lay down the groundwork. I didn’t start physical training and board designing until November 2013.
Did you train as you would have normally for a regular SUP event, or did you mix it up?
Corran It’s a very different type of training. Usually, SUP races are 5-10 miles (8km-16km), so you train to burn all energy within 1-2 hours of padding. It’s a high rep, high octane workout with a lot of focus on interval training. With the Dusi, it was about training my body to establish a rhythm I could maintain for 5-6 hours per day for three days. I needed to instinctively know through muscle memory that I was paddling at a rate as fast as I could maintain for an extended period of time. A lot of the training went hand in hand with product development. Little things but important ones… for example, how to design the skeg so it’s there when you need it and not there when you’re in whitewater and a harness to carry the board for the portages. So when I’d make a design change, then do a very long workout, any problems would come to the surface. Interval training was of course important, but there was much more focus on distance muscle memory buildup. Also a change to a high protein diet from a high carb diet, because the max time you can use available carbohydrates is four hours, compared to six hours of stored proteins, so it was important to condition my body to this new diet.
Your board was specifically crafted for this event. Were you the one who designed and crafted it or did you have any outside help?
Corran Yes, I designed it and did all the work on it. This is what I do for a living – design boards and kayaks – so I have a lot of experience. Still, there was an element of pure guess work. By the time I started working on the design, it was winter here and so there was no whitewater environment to test it in. So it was all purely theoretical – going off 25 years experience as a designer and some thumbsucking. The board was essentially 95% perfect – some minor changes I have since made to the design based on the extensive testing it went through in the week leading up to the race and the race itself, before now putting it in production for other people wanting to do the Dusi. These will be available through my website corransup.com. Alongside the board was the development of the harness system for portaging (which Dean and I worked on side by side) and also figuring out things like what shoes to use. Body Glove was nice enough to give me a pair of their prototype Dynamo, a shoe set for release in 2015, which turned out to be the ideal shoe for extended SUP paddling and portaging combined.
Do you plan on doing the event next year?
Corran Yes I will be competing next year. There have been some small design changes to the board as mentioned. For training, I will focus on more running and leg work, which is where I fell short this last year. Also, training all year long will give me better cardio and the ability to take a lot of time off my race. I should be able to cut almost an hour a day, I hope, off the final time.
What advice for the brave people wanting to do this in the coming years?
Corran It’s the hardest thing they’ll do without a doubt, so be prepared to suffer… and be fit. There is a lot of interest. I have tentative commitments from about a dozen people already, so there are going to be a lot of us. I think we could expect as many as 50.
If the interest is good enough, the organisers of The Dusi might well add a SUP category, so if you are willing to put in the required training and brave enough to attempt it, good luck!