I first came to Africa when I was sixteen years old, I was alone, scared, desperate to find a different way of life to that of Warrington and keen to develop my kayaking skills. I found everything I wanted and so much more. Collectively I have spent over two years of my life living in Africa and I have learnt a lot about people, the world, whitewater and much more importantly I have made some lifelong friends along the way.
From spending so much time in Uganda I had things pretty figured out, I was good friends with the local village elders, I had a house that I could stay in and easy access to the river each day. This year we lost that river paradise. Corruption, greed and shortsightedness manifested itself in the form of an ugly, unjust dam, which flooded the world famous rapids and ravished the small local industries that had sprung up at the side of the river.
There are a lot of things about this situation that hurt me, the devastation to the environment, the extra difficulties the local communities will face and the distinct possibility that the kids that we taught how to kayak in the village, who showed every potential to become Uganda’s next top kayaker, may never have the chance to realize their dreams. Purely selfishly I also lost my second home and my back up plan in life. I always thought that if life ever went completely sideways that I would move into the village full time, work in the fields and shred in my kayak as much as possible. This is no longer an option.
However, the only difference between loss and gain is how you view it. Whilst I am devastated to lose the whitewater of the Nile I am excited to use the loss of old stomping grounds to find new ones. Top of my list is the Zambezi river.
This river has featured in many a kayaking film, it has served as a proving ground for some of the worlds best kayakers and it was the center piece of 14 year old Bren’s dream rivers to kayak down. 10 years later I finally got the opportunity to go and it did not disappoint.
I met up with my mate Dane in Livingstone and we based ourselves out of Jollyboys Back Packers. This spot had everything I wanted; wifi, great accommodation, close proximity to town and most importantly, a swimming pool. We would get picked up each day by SafPar rafting who where an awesome bunch that sorted every off the water logistic out for us, leaving us to simply enjoy the river each day.
The river was everything 14 year old Bren dreamt of and then some. Huge waves, scary holes, tight lines and some awesome, stress free, fun rapids. I was personally blown away with just how much whitewater is in the gorge and how much of it is top quality.
We dropped the minus rapids on our first day and they went great but we weren’t comfortable rolling the dice with the potential to have the worst swim of your life everyday. If the water level had risen and the window through the hole had become wider or at least more consistent then we would have. Personally I was completely fine with that decision as there are 21 awesome rapids just downstream. Our personal favorites where the number 5 elevator line and the infamous number 9.
The center line at number 9 is crazy. Dane knows this river really well and rallied me off it without scouting the first day, it is a tight line in between two monster holes but it goes great. When I was on the side filming the following days though I could not see the line we where hitting, it looks like you are just going to get pasted in a hole. Mad respect to whoever opened that line up.
After number 9 the river chills out, the rapids open up and the downstream freeride becomes exceptional.
It is a relatively long river run and if you spend your time freestyling, your arms will feel like lead by the time you pull into the last eddy. From there it is a 15 minute hike out of the Victoria river gorge, which despite being steep, hot and grueling is not actually that bad and is a great way to earn your beverage of choice in the bar later that evening.
It’s always hard stepping into new places, learning the way of things and how to best enjoy that place. I am happy to have found another set up in Africa that provides me with everything that I loved about Uganda. Warm weather, huge water, awesome people and the ability to focus on the important things in life, shredding in your kayak, living simply and hanging out with one of your best mates!
Here’s to many more trips on the Zambezi to come!
The Zambezi is currently under threat of being dammed, please visit www.savethezambezi.com for more information on how you can prevent the loss of another iconic African river.
Photos of the Zambezi not enough? Check out the video: