The Renmark locals are adamant. "You have to have a certain degree of madness about you to do what they do," shrugs one, shaking their head. 'They' are the competitors in the annual Red Bull Dinghy Derby, which snakes its way around the Murray River in the rural South Australian town every February. What they're doing? Propelling brutally powerful 60+ horsepower dinghies at up to 90km/h along a 100-kilometre course packed with submerged tree logs, blind corners and 90 other competitors under a roasting South Australian summer sun.
Recipes for guaranteed action don't come more complete, which is why Up the Creek, a 25-minute documentary on this year's Red Bull Dinghy Derby set to premiere on Red Bull TV on Friday August 26, is compulsory viewing.
"You have to have a certain degree of madness about you to do what they do"
The 2016 edition of the event was the 35th since its inception, and
for much of that recent history, Matt Thur has been its hard-luck
story. The former Riverland Dinghy Club president is a perennial
contender each summer, but building the most potent motor comes with plenty of risk, and reliability woes have regularly cruelled his chances of a maiden victory. Thur's demeanour can change between being confident to fatalistic in a heartbeat. He's fast, but he's been fragile – and he knows it. "I'm so far committed that I've just got to keep trying," he says.
Thur's determination and obsession contrasts with the Pfitzner
brothers, Kyle and Ryleigh. They won the 2015 event, and want to back up because, well, just because. "I don't know if it's important, I
just want to win it," Kyle laughs, running a hand through his epic mullet.
If Thur is the derby's hare, Cliff Glover is – relatively speaking –
its tortoise. Teamed with swinger Trevor Telling, who balances the
boat through the lefts and rights of the sinuous course, Cliff is very
much an advocate of the old motorsport adage – to finish first, first
you have to finish. He knows he can't go with Thur for sheer speed,
but also knows he'll see the end. "I'm known for having an engine that does make the course," Cliff says.
Then there's the outsiders, Andy Kelckhoven and Nathan Wilson. The Queenslanders have no local knowledge to call upon, and drove 24 hours straight to arrive in Renmark in time for a quick Murray reconnaissance mission. "We didn’t come all this way to make up the numbers, we're definitely going to have a crack," Andy says.
History shows that Thur and swinger Shane Palat finally banished their bad luck to the past with a win that had been years in the making. But stories of sporting redemption are rarely as straight-forward as that, and especially when they're about the Red Bull Dinghy Derby. There's mishaps, controversy, false alarms, panic, near-misses and plenty of drama – not to mention a twist in the tale long after the chequered flag has flown and the last drops of the well-earned post-race beverages drunk.