The ‘Change a Life’ boys not being familiar with the path of least resistance down the Umzimkulu River, nerves were on edge. Especially so, when a sms was sent out two days prior to race start, “River High, don’t forget to bring helmets”.
The Drak Challenge is a two day race near the little town of Underberg, up in the Drakensberg. I say up because interestingly, it takes place at an altitude higher than Jhb. And with Dusi fever in the air, a record 1000 paddlers were about to pit their skills upon this technically challenging river.

WHICH WAY? – MY 2000 Dusi Champ partner – Mark perrow- 1 min after starting…. 

I was excited that Thomas Ngidi (one of the ‘Change a Life’ heroes) would be racing as he has been absent from the Valley due to taking up a work opportunity in Jhb. Unfortunately, his Father passed away the day before the race and so he could not come. This will be a very sad Dusi indeed, with Richard & Nhlanhla’s Dad also recently passing away, not to mention Margi Oliver (who became an institution of SA Canoeing, faithfully doing the time-keeping alongside her husband John Oliver). I cannot remember a race in Kzn, that Margi wasn’t waiting at the finish. I used to climb out my boat, knackered, wander over to Margs to see my time, but in reality it was to eat a delicious treat of sort, which was always on offer from her secret stash. Then also the passing of the Legendary “Pope”, no Dusi will ever be the same.


My Zulus spirits were high on the start line albeit a damp camping experience the previous night. A highly competitive men’s A-batch, including Hank McGregor, Len Jenkins and Ant Stott waited anxiously for the start gun. It was a hussle & bussle affair with canoeists running to their canoes. The carnage on the first 90 degree left bend was entertaining for the crowd on the bank and a good lesson for later starters, on what not to do.
The K3 with a mounted camera on the back deck, captained by Stu Rawlinson, took the cake as it bombarded its way up the right bank, spinning upstream, capsizing its occupants in the process. Fortunately no damage was done, except of course their egos.


‘Change a Life’ paddling sensation Zonele Nzuza, finished 8th after Day 1, negotiating the top technical white-water section like a pro. The finest result of the day came from junior Mmeli Cele, who finished an incredible 16th overall, ahead of all his senior ‘Change a Life’ compatriots. Chasing him down were the foursome of Kwanda, Nksoi (Mmeli’s brother), John and Lucas – over two minutes adrift. A frustrated Eric Zondi came across the line a minute later. Having no swims, he struggled with a leaking splash cover, having to stop and empty a few times. His pumps couldn’t keep up with the water coming in – this makes the boat harder to paddle and the steering ‘lethargic’, causing huge extra effort with the negative of a drop in boat speed.


Explaining to him afterwards – “this race is just training. It’s good that this happens to you here, rather than Dusi….” Helped take pressure off him that he was expected to get a result.
But its true, this race is merely a stepping stone in their build-up for Dusi. This past week’s training has been gruelling and there was no rest the day before this race. This race was the perfect playground for testing the new different models of Canoes on fast moving water….
Following Lucas closely, Nhlanhla’s race ended abruptly, when he wrapped his canoe negotiating the infamous boat breaker – Black Murray Rapid. From there he had a steep climb out the Valley, up to the road.


Regarded as the “most fun you can have Canoeing”, the Drak as it is fondly called, is cradled within the most spectacular landscape imaginable. Massive mountains with naturedly pastured green slopes, make the first 40min paddling, a heart thumping experience – as there is no easy escape route if you happen to break your canoe.


Eric showed fine form and skill, when he recorded the 6th fastest time on Day 2, making up for his slack Day 1 race prep. Zonele came unstuck, when he took two swims in the Gorge section, dropping down the ranks to 14th. Kwanda and John, kept it steady, finishing 21st and 22nd respectively.
Mmeli too struggled with the Gorge section (where Ant Stott took a swim), resulting in him dropping back, but just managing to finish one position ahead of his chasing brother Nkosi. Right behind him were Mzamo and Lucas.
The rain poured down as we tied our canoes on the trailer. A lot was learned this weekend, from basic race prep to boat handling skills on a technical river. To conclude, 8 ‘Change a Life’ paddlers came in the top 30 overall – I’m happy with that.

Now with the lovely rain currently falling in the Valley of a thousand Hills, its back to business – we tripping the Dusi at sparrows tomorrow morning….

Pos.  Name.  Surname.  Day 1.   Day 2.          Overall
1 HANK MCGREGOR 01:25:49.76 02:19:11.30 03:45:01.06
2 LEN JENKINS JNR 01:25:52.52 02:19:10.76 03:45:03.29
3 ANT STOTT 01:25:51.26 02:21:51.74 03:47:43.00
4 JACQUES THERON 01:29:14.07 02:22:18.61 03:51:32.69
5 BRANDON VAN DER WALT 01:29:42.81 02:22:51.92 03:52:34.73
6 PIERS CRUICKSHANKS 01:29:43.78 02:24:52.38 03:54:36.16
7 LANCE KIME 01:29:13.09 02:26:46.29 03:55:59.39
8 MARK MULDER 01:31:53.74 02:26:35.96 03:58:29.70
9 WAYNE WILSON 01:31:48.61 02:26:51.47 03:58:40.08
10 SHAUN GRIFFIN 01:31:47.11 02:27:42.33 03:59:29.44
11 MURRAY BURGESS 01:32:54.26 02:26:54.42 03:59:48.69
12 BEN BIGGS 01:32:55.91 02:27:47.45 04:00:43.36
13 SEAN MCGUIGAN 01:30:56.14 02:29:53.83 04:00:49.97
14 ZONELE NZUZA 01:30:54.47 02:30:10.13 04:01:04.61
15 LOVEDAY ZONDI 01:33:17.81 02:27:48.91 04:01:06.72
16 SIBONELO ZONDI 01:36:45.55 02:24:26.33 04:01:11.88
17 DONAVAN WEWEGE 01:31:30.67 02:31:29.56 04:03:00.23
18 MARC GERMIQUET 01:33:20.55 02:29:59.17 04:03:19.72
19 ANDREW BIRKETT 01:33:25.58 02:30:11.75 04:03:37.33
20 KWANDA MHLOPHE 01:35:38.63 02:29:12.46 04:04:51.09
21 JOHN THEMBA NGCOBO 01:35:46.01 02:29:26.33 04:05:12.35
22 MARK USSHER 01:35:44.56 02:30:07.64 04:05:52.21
23 EMILE THEUNISSEN 01:35:37.53 02:30:18.60 04:05:56.14
24 BLAINE BERESFORD 01:36:46.45 02:29:29.53 04:06:15.99
25 DAVID CHAPLIN 01:36:14.42 02:30:33.57 04:06:47.99
26 MMELI CELE 01:33:18.95 02:33:44.24 04:07:03.19
27 NKOSIKAYISE CELE (SHANGASE) 01:35:42.69 02:31:27.25 04:07:09.95
28 MZAMO ZONDI 01:36:16.12 02:31:35.31 04:07:51.44
29 LUCAS MTHALANE 01:35:53.41 02:31:59.93 04:07:53.34 And I expect a handful of addirectors will insist on continuing to abuse consultants in the media as opposed to engaging with i need help with my homework us constructively

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