I have been getting lots of requests for both a basics and an advanced playboating video since my book came out three years ago. I finally got a month freed up to go somewhere warm with great playboating water and got some great friends together to film the videos. Chris Emerick, Jay Kincaid, Jessie Stone, Clay Wright, and myself left for Africa on New Year’s eve and spent one month filming on the Zambezi and the Nile Rivers. Here is what happened.
I spent New Year’s eve flying from Atlanta to South Africa on South African airlines. It is a 19 hour non-stop flight. Not bad actually. I met Chris at the Johannesburg airport that next day and we spent the night in a hostel called the Ritz (not as fancy as the name suggests) The next day we took a flight from Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia, home of Victoria Falls. Jay, Clay, and Jessie rolled in over the next couple of days as I worked some deals with the Zambezi Sun hotel right at the put-in for the five of us to stay for 12 days. What a sweet spot!
The hotel is right at Victoria Falls, literally. We could go out early and swim above the falls, right on the lip. There were several nice swimming spots that weren’t too scary. There is a rainbow made from the mist of the falls that will blow your mind. It starts high above the falls and slowly drops down into the gorge as the sun rises. The entire Zambezi River flows over the lip of the falls into a crack in the earth. The spray from the falls shoots into the far side of the river and creates a waterfall that goes upwards from the strong winds. Below these falls is where the rapids of the Zambezi Gorge start. They have been heavily over rated in difficulty over the years. If you have ever watched Steve Fisher’s Wicked Liquid you would be right to be afraid. The reality is, however, that the river can be run as a solid class IV with a couple of class V’s that can be walked. It isn’t any harder than the Futalafu in Chile.
Our days were taken up by the river. We would wake at 6:30 and eat breakfast at the hotel, then get our gear ready and plan the shuttles. By 8am we would be at the top of the gorge where our porters would take our gear down to the river. By 8:30 we were dressed and on the water.
There was way more playspots than we had time to really play. The heat took some getting used to. We spent lots of time upside down cooling off. I started by wearing a spray skirt and paddle jacket but found that I was cooler in my shorty drydeck.
The hardest rapids were 7 and 9. Chris and I ran the river the first day alone before the others arrived and Chris almost got sucked into the big hole on river left in 9. He decided to leave that rapid alone for a while. Clay, Jay, and I started going down the middle of 9 with the water getting significantly higher each day.
On the last two days Clay broke his paddle in the middle of the last hole (about 15 feet high) and his nose on the last day (he still has to get it straightened). Rapid number 7 was getting harder and Jessie was getting a little worried about Pattella’s Gap ( a nasty gap on the bottom right of the rapid, where the water goes, of course) She did fine though.
We found great playspots at rapid 2, 3, 7, 8, 10, 18, and 19. We found many others along the way too. Believe it or not we found small holes, and small waves for the basics video as well as plenty of big holes and big waves. We did the flatwater section of the video at a small pool at the top of the falls and also in an eddy right at the bottom of the falls.
After each day on the river we had a full-on hike out of the gorge. I always did it as fast as I could as a leg workout only to be greeted by our shuttle driver with lots of water, and sometimes beer. It was a short shuttle back from rapid number 13 take out that dumped us off right back at our hotel, all on dirt roads. The AC in our rooms was worth a million dollars as was the incredible buffet dinners each night with live music and a great atmosphere. Every night we would review the video of the day and plan our following day.
One evening we took a drive to the local gamepark and saw wild rinos, zebra, giraffes, buffalo, impala, and many other incredible game. Every day we would stop to watch the antics of the vervet monkeys and the baboons. During breakfast monkeys would try to steal the bread and sugar from the tables while the guards and hotel staff try to chase them away. It was quite the scene.
Every child learns of the Nile River in school. What we don’t learn is about the incredible rapids on the Nile. The Nile flows right out of Lake Victoria which is about the size of Switzerland but so deep that it holds a record amount of fresh water. We took a plane back to South Africa and then up to Entebbe, Uganda where the Nile begins. The river starts with 1,800 cubic meters/second at the source which is 7 times as much as the Zambezi. The rapids are big water rapids and definitely drop pool. The river is not unlike a many times bigger Ottawa or Slave River. Some of the drops are quite dangerous and there are so many channels that having a guide or scouting are required.
Steve Fisher and I went downstream from our camp on rapid to take some shots and found an island full of giant fruit bats. I am talking about 10,000 or more bats. Steve thought it would make a good picture if I was in the tree with them, so I tried, but the entire island of bats took off and circled. It looked like a scene out of Scooby Doo. These things had a wing span of three feet. Apparently they don’t bite, because if they did, we certainly would have been bitten.
After my first day on the river, I got Malaria. I found out that the anti-malaria drug my doctor gave me was for South America, not Africa. If you can, you should really avoid getting Malaria, it was not fun. It took me four days to get on my feet and paddling again (not well though). All in all I only got three days of paddling on the Nile. Our camp was right at the put-in and we only needed a shuttle home. There is 75 kilometers of incredible whitewater downstream of the camp. They even have a kayak school at the river through Nile River Explorers. Finally, we left for Johannesburg and then back to Atlanta. Jay went on to Australia, Jessie and Chris went to Chile, Clay and I came back to Rock Island.