DURBAN - They were billed as the Dream Team and to little surprise, Andy Birkett and Hank McGregor cruised to an opening day victory at the Dusi.
They led from the opening cannon at 6am, down Ernie Pearce Weir, and right through an intense, but clinical opening chunk of three. At no stage did they seem rushed, concerned or even aware of the musical chairs that were playing out behind them.
Indeed, there was a point at Geoff’s Road, when a spectator shouted "you are doing so well guys, keep going!". It was two hours into their considerable toil but, with the canoe slung over one shoulder, McGregor flicked a quick look over to the bank, and very politely said thank you, with a beaming smile.
Birkett, grabbed the boat and chucked it into the water, taking his seat at the front. The tank that is Hank, pleasantries completed, mounted his frame into the back, and off they charged towards the rapids.
“You know, I have never really had fun at the Dusi before. But today, I must admit, I had fun out there,” a chuffed McGregor smiled.
It was a different side to the world’s best flat-water paddler, who is famous for his end of day rants about the race. Deep down, of course, you always get the sense that McGregor enjoys the at times sadistic endurance test that is the Dusi.
Yesterday, in the company of the dominant force of the race for the last decade, McGregor the menace got to smell the roses, if you will.
He looked around and enjoyed the thrill of the view the pack.
“I always knew I could beat Andy over Cabbage Tree (portage), and the evidence is on Facebook! The pictures don’t lie,” McGregor said of his energetic run up the hill.
“Leading on day one, going through town, is such a high. You almost have to calm yourself down,” the veteran explained of their early morning.
“It is something special for me,” McGregor pointed out. “I have never won the first day of the Dusi, and to do it with a great guy like Andy is fantastic.”
The race for second
Behind them, there was a terrific scrap for second and third between three boats. Sibonelo Khwela and Siseko Ntondini finished just ahead of the charging Carl Folscher and Adrian Boros, who added that they were here to have fun.
“We were wary that we are definitely punching out of our weight class. But we are also here to have fun,” Folscher explained.
“Adrian is a full-time marathon paddler, and I have a normal job. So on Monday, we have to get back to work,” he said by way of explaining their relaxed demeanour.
Asked if they could chase down the Dream Team, on Day Two, Folscher’s eyes opened wide.
“I once had the fortunate misfortune of being ahead of Hank, when he missed a portage. Have you ever seen those eyes of his?” he said, his whole face lighting up for effect.
“They are the number one and two marathon paddlers in the world. Those guys are fast!”
It is that simple, and though the Dusi is never a certain thing, McGregor and Birkett on the open water is an unstoppable freight train. They gulp down kilometres, and they are expected to build on their two-minute cushion on Friday.
McGregor says he had fun on day one, but his usual day of delight is the middling day, when the dam is his to dominate. It is an ominous thought for those behind him.
It is all part of the fun, they say.