Pietermaritzburg – The 2015/16 KwaZulu-Natal river marathon season kicks into gear with the popular Umpetha Challenge taking centre stage on Sunday, 8 November and in a surprise move 2015 Non-Stop Dusi Canoe Marathon champion Thulani Mbanjwa will rekindle a long lost partnership with the experienced Shaun Rubenstein for the one-day classic from Camps Drift to the Bishopstowe Farmers Hall.
The KZN Department of Sport and Recreation supported event is the first seeding race of the new season in the build up to the 2016 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon and so provides paddlers with the ideal hit-out in preparation for what should prove to be an exciting season as the K2 combinations start taking shape.
Although the former Dusi champion Mbanjwa is one of the more experienced paddlers at the front of the elite field, he is in a state of limbo as he is still in the process of battening down a partner for the three-day epic from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in February.
With that in mind the Build it/Williams Hunt star is not too concerned this early in the season and is looking forward to getting back into a boat with a paddler of the calibre of Rubenstein.
“Myself and Shaun have been talking for a while about racing together and we decided a few weeks ago that we should give it a go,” Mbanjwa mentioned. “He seems to be without a partner and so we decided that we would just see how we go together so we thought the Umpetha would be a great race to start with.”
With seeding being at the back of Mbanjwa’s mind going into the contest on Sunday, he has made up his mind on how they are going to approach the race with valuable time in the boat being of the highest priority.
“There are going to be a lot of strong crews around this season and we will be able to see how they go this weekend but for us it’s just a case of getting out there and paddling together.
“Shaun and I have paddled quite a bit together in the past. We paddled sprints together a number of years ago as well as a few marathon races but we are going to have to spend some time together to see if we can still paddle together!” Mbanjwa added light-heartedly.
With plenty of races between this weekend and the FNB Dusi Mbanjwa is holding his cards close to his chest, as is expected by the top elite paddlers, however he is full of praise for his Non-Stop Dusi Canoe Marathon winning partner Nhlanhla Cele with whom he first explored combining with for next year’s Dusi.
“Nhlanhla is an incredible talented paddler, he has some incredible power in the back of the boat and winning the Non-Stop Dusi with him has given me, and him as well I’m sure, a lot of confidence going into this season.
“It is going to be an incredibly tough season with some really strong crews coming to mind but I am feeling really good and I am glad the wait for the start of the season is over so we can get into some good racing!” an expectant Mbanjwa commented.
A lack of rain this early in the season has meant that Mbanjwa is in the unique position that he has not been able to get onto the river.
Although he has not been on the water that much and the fact that his Dusi training gains momentum from this week, the former Dusi winner believes he is ready for what the season has to throw at him.
“It is quite strange that there is so little water in the river at this stage of the year,” he said worriedly. “Despite that I am really excited though and we get into our training for Dusi properly this week so to finally say that the season is starting is very pleasing!”
More information can be found at http://www.umpethachallenge.co.za