Words: Dave Macleod | Photo: Terry Haywood
Will he or won’t he? Every year that Andy Birkett has won the Dusi Canoe Marathon he has embarked on an unusual ritual in the days before the race – shaving off his mop of curly hair.
As unique as his trademark move of standing up in his kayak as he crosses the line, the close-cropped hair was synonymous with his formula for winning the three day race from Camps Drift to Blue Lagoon.
The ritual does not guarantee success. Birkett was sporting his traditional “Number One” cut when he capsized at Thombi rapid last year, effectively ending his challenge for a fourth title on the trot.
So, his fans are asking, when will Andy Birkett step into the barber shop for his ritual haircut?
Not this year it seems.
Birkett has teamed up with Sbonelo Zondi for his bid at a third K2 title, and the happy-go-lucky pair has set about preparing for the race quite differently.
“I’m with Sbonelo (Zondi) this year, not with (previous partner) Jason (Graham),” said Birkett. “We have done just about everything differently in our training. That’s why I think I am not going to get my head shaved this time.”
Birkett is a meticulous athlete, and plans and executes his Dusi campaign with methodical precision, following a tried and trusted formula in his build-up. This year however Birkett, oozing confidence and clearly enjoying himself, is not afraid to bin his old formula and try something new.
“In fact, Sbonelo (Zondi) likes to gauge how fast we are going by how much my hair flies back, so I feel like I have to keep the long hair this year,” said Birkett with his trademark cheeky grin.
“I’m not stuck in my ways at all. In fact I love trying something different,” says Birkett. “I think you have to continually ask yourself if there are better way to do things in training and in racing.”
“This year everything has been different. I concentrated on my paddling and had a great year at marathons (he won the world Under 23 K1 marathon title). We have done much less running, concentrating on quality rather than quantity.
“As we come into Dusi we are feeling so fresh that I think all these changes are working,” added Birkett. “But we will have to see on the day.”
While Birkett risks disappointing his fans eager to see him in his traditional Dusi stubble hairdo, he is content that this is part of the continually evolving Andy Birkett who is “having fun doing what he does best.”
The Dusi Canoe Marathon 2014 starts in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday 13 February and ends in Durban on Saturday 15 February 2014. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za