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At 80, Hugh Raw lines up Dusi Canoe first

Hugh Raw gets acquainted with his new K1. Picture: Shane Raw/Gameplan Media

Age is just a number, so they say, and in 2021, “evergreen” Hugh Raw will be doing it in multiples of 10, as he aims to paddle to his 10th Dusi Canoe Marathon finish at the tender age of 80.

Pietermaritzburg paddler Hugh will almost certainly be the oldest paddler in the field, treating himself to a K1 Dusi shortly after turning 80 years old.

The sprightly octogenarian has a long history with the race that has seen him champion the annual canvas Dusi paddle that replicates the early Dusi, and this year he aims to finish his tenth Dusi, which will earn him his permanent green number, to go with his 10 canvas Dusis.

Deeply rooted

Modest and unassuming, Raw and his family are deeply rooted in paddling and it surprises many that he has not competed in more Dusis since his introduction to the sport in 1982, but his involvement with the race goes back much further than that.

“I was a huge admirer and friend of Dr Ian Player. I recall as a small boy playing on the banks of the Dusi and swimming in the clean river, and then watching the Dusi paddlers going past at what is now Merchiston School,” he said.

At 80 Hugh Raw is aiming for his tenth medal in the MyLife Dusi Canoe Marathon, in February. Picture: Dave Macleod/Gameplan Media

Raw was sought after as a pilot to fly over the valleys during the 1970s to scout portages and observe crews running with their boats through the bush, at a stage when designing new portage route was seen as essential to any Dusi success.

Running a kayak shop, he then spent 10 years helping paddlers with all sorts of canoeing supplies and repairs at overnight stops before his debut in 1982.

Race history

Since then he has accumulated nine finishers’ medals, six of them consecutively, but has now planned a K1 Dusi finisher’s medal in February 2021, as the first 80 year-old to achieved that feat.

“It will be fun to set a small mark in the history of this great race,” said Raw, pointing out that it will be a memorable family affair as he will be accompanied by his sons Shane and Darren.

Hugh Raw’s attempt at finishing his 10th Dusi at the age of 80 will be another escapade for fans of the race to follow. Picture: Dusi website

“We will be paddling as an old- school group of associates. Darron and Shane will be with me all the way as competitor/helpers and we will share the portages using the nose and tail slings that they used in the early days of the Dusi,” said Raw.

Raw has followed his passion for recreating and paddling wood and canvas kayaks as were used in the pioneering days of the race, to the point that he has completed more canvas Dusis than conventional Dusi Marathons.

Three generations

“I did my first canvas Dusi in 2009 and I have done them every year since then,” said Raw, whose love for big water rivers like the Umkomaas, Bushmans and Tugela rivers has rubbed off on his family, who have become renowned rough water kayakers.

He holds an unique record at the annual Fish Marathon where he has completed the race in a K3 with his sons and grandsons, celebrating three generations of the family in various combinations in recent years.

First octogenarian

When he finishes the 2021 MyLife Dusi at Blue Lagoon on Saturday, February 20, he will become the first octogenarian to get a Dusi finishers medal, eclipsing the mark set by Arthur Duncan, who completed the Dusi in a K2 aged 79 with Colin Burden.

“Actually this all started at the last Dusi prize giving,” said Raw, who turned eighty last weekend. “I started planning to do a Dusi at 80, and in a K1 because I simply prefer paddling in a single. I can paddle at my own pace and not worry about keeping anybody waiting.”

Adding spice to the Dusi Canoe racing season

Hugh completed the first race of the MyLife Dusi season last weekend when he finished the Alan Gardiner Memorial race that takes in half of the Dusi second stage, and it gave a glimpse of what to expect from his Dusi, as he paddled at a slow but steady pace, enjoying the occasion with like-minded paddlers.

“Now that I have entered there is quite a bit of interest from other paddlers to join me,” he added. “The famous Dusi Dawdlers are asking to start in our batch as well.”

The 2021 MyLife Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from February 18-20 2021. Entry details and more information can be found at

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Adding spice to the Dusi canoe racing season