Yesterday, the four SUP paddlers of Dean Botcher, Brendon Germain, Jon Ivans and myself completed the first ever successful Dusi marathon on Stand Up Paddleboards. It was truly the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I must have considered giving up a dozen times.
The event was not without mishap. It started with me coming down with Ecoli bacteria (and the runs) the day before the race, weakening me dramatically. The air temp was in excess of 39C (102F) in the valley. I snapped my fin an hour into the race trying to avoid a K2 taco in a particularity nasty rapid called taxi. Dean fell in a nasty low head dam and his board was recycled for almost an hour before it came out. We all fell in some nasty rapids and by the end of day two were limping and moaning in paid and from exhaustion. Brendon came in with a 10 min lead after day one, having run over the two alarming hard portages (miles from the river over mountains, board on head in oppressive heat). I was second with Dean and Jon not far behind.
Day two however was the long day. The portages were less severe (though still no joke) and it was miles and miles of hard class 3-4 whitewater (standing on what is little more than a knitting needle) and I slowly ebbed out a lead, being nearly 45 mins ahead by the second major portage of the day. The day ended with a 12km paddle across Inanda Dam (after 4hrs paddling and portaging), into blasting head winds. Speed was reduced at times to 2km/hr, and I can assure you I contemplated giving up several times as it dawned on me that the lake paddle itself could take as much as 4hrs alone. However sometimes the wind switched to a heavy side wind, and while this resulted in “sweep stroking” for two miles at a time on one side, with rolling waves trying to tip you off with each stroke, it also allowed speed to increase to about 7km/hr. In the end I completed the day in just over 6hrs. Jon was in next with a time of about 7hrs, Brendon in about 7:30hrs and Dean limped in at just over 8:30hrs (after waiting 45 mins for his board to come out of the low head dam). When I got to the finish line I quite literally shed a tear – the overwhelming emotion of suffering, exertion and elation of having made it. We limped home for a short nights sleep as the start was 6am the next day (requiring us to get up at 3am).
Day 3 starts with a 4km sprint across the last part of Inanada Dam, and amazingly I was feeling fresh and took off, giving myself about a 20 min lead by the time we got to the portage at the dam wall. The first rapid (Tops Needle where we held the 1992 Barcelona Olympic trials) chicken line was congested with K2′s piled into each other, so I went for the hero line, coming off about half way down where I proceeded to get rammed over and over by K2′s out of control. I have to say the Innegra fabric we used in these boards is nothing short of bullet proof… three days of rock pounding, miles and miles of dragging it over rock strewn terrain, and barely a ding to be seen.
Eventually I got going again and increased my lead over the guys as the big water release of Day3 really put up some challenges. Brendon opted for the Burma Road portage – a tough over the mountain run which would cut out the loop in the river of hard whitewater, with the plan of closing the gap. Getting lost, he didn’t make up the hoped time.
Dean and Jon had good days, making most of the lines with style and control. I decided to portage the Island 1+2 rapids, and Powerhouse, deciding to save my strength for the 10km paddle to the sea into head winds (running hard rapids is fun, but saps your strength as it takes immense power to turn the boards). In the end I completed the run in 3:49hrs, a time comparable with K1 spring kayaks. Dean came in second with a time of 4:34hrs, making up for day 2′s mishaps, with Brendon coming in about 10 mins later and Jon finally completing the race 20 mins after Brendon (because of a repair) making it a 100% finish for the SUP class in this first ever Dusi marathon.
The only way I can describe this race is you’ll never enjoy suffering this much. You’re mad if you try this on stand up (all the other guys have done it many times in a kayak and say its no where near as hard), so I encourage anyone who kayaks and wants to try a new way of doing it, or who SUP’s and wants to really do something they’ll never forget. For sure next year I’ll do it again. Wiser and better prepared.