Photo: The Dusi Canoe Marathon | Adventure Kayak Magazine | Rapid Media
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Photo: The Dusi Canoe Marathon Photo: Kelvin Trautman/Red Bull Content Pool

A look at one of the toughest kayak marathons on the planet

Doozie is an old term used to describe anything remarkable, unusual or outstanding of its kind—and the Dusi Canoe Marathon is certainly these things. The venerable South African event is one of the toughest kayak marathons on the planet: three days of racing covering 75 miles, including ruinous rapids, headwind-plagued flatwater and up to 12 miles of brutal portaging through steep bush. The race has claimed four lives. Composite kayaks snapped in half like brittle twigs are not an uncommon sight.

Founded in 1951, the first Dusi down the Umsindusi and Umgeni rivers was raced by just eight paddlers. Nearly six-and-a-half days later, only one bedraggled and exhausted kayaker arrived at the finish in Durban, having survived two days of low water, a flash flood and a venomous viper bite. Over the next three decades, the annual event swelled to more than 1,000 paddlers—larger even than the narrow views of apartheid: the first black competitor raced...

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