Waves crashes over the front of the kayak. All around, white water sprays up into the air. The relative calm of the flat-water section that follows this 100 meter long rapid seems like a long way off. Every wave that hits the side of the kayak holds the potential to knock this novice kayaker out of the boat and into the white-water. A few minutes later, the perilous waves that were surrounding the kayak are replaced. Now, all around are the ecstatic grins of the other first time white-water kayakers who have just completed the grade three rapid, aptly named, ‘Jaws’. This is just day one of the introduction to white-water kayaking course on the river Nile in Uganda run by Kayak the Nile.
Located a few kilometres to the north of Jinja, arguably the adventure tourism capital of East Africa, the Bujagali Lake offers a more tranquil start to the beginners learning experience. This large section of flat-water provides a picturesque area for first-time paddlers to practice their kayaking skills. The course begins with an introduction to basic kayaking techniques as well as safety and rescue techniques.
The credentials for the instructors passing on their knowledge couldn’t be higher. Out on the water on this morning offering instruction was Emily Wall, two times British Champion. Perhaps more importantly than her experiences of competing at the highest levels of freestyle kayaking though, is Emily’s patience and obvious enthusiasm for teaching beginners.
Out on the water, metaphors are used liberally to explain the movement and science behind kayaking. Whether it is through skiing or surfing Emily finds an analogy that relates to each of the would-be kayakers. Joanna Reid, a British nurse volunteering in Uganda, said after the session that, “Emily was world class and has a gift for teaching. She always made us feel safe. It was Emily and the team that made the day really enjoyable…”
But it’s not just the instructors who make learning to kayak at the source of the Nile special.
To start with, the water is dam released, making the rapids accessible, fun and relatively predictable 365 days a year. Every day you can expect an impressive 1600 cumecs meaning that you know you will have big volume rapids to learn on.
Secondly, the average monthly temperature in Uganda varies by less than two degrees meaning that most days you can expect the temperature to rise to the high twenties, but significantly, little more!
In short, it’s always shorts and t-shirt weather and not wet suits.
Lastly, the range of rapids on the river offers everything from grade 1 to grade 6 with an almost infinite number of lines into the rapids. With the right instructor there really is something for everyone, regardless of confidence and ability levels.
Explaining why she chose the Nile as her home for teaching kayaking, Emily said, “I have kayaked across five continents, yet I’ve chosen to call the Nile home because of the awesome training ground it provides for kayakers of all levels. The white water we have here on the Nile is unique; not only are the rapids warm and deep (with no rocks or crocs), the sun shines and the water flows all year around!”
In the afternoon then, the beginners head out to explore what this ‘training ground’ downstream of Bujagali Lake has to offer. Of course, fresh faced kayakers are not thrown straight into a grade three rapids. Most of the afternoon is spent practising breaking in and out of fast flowing water (and invariably putting rescue and swimming skills to practice).
But, as the afternoon draws on so the sense of excitement in the groups grows. The group of first-time white water kayakers paddle to a few hundred meters short of the ‘Jaws’ rapids. The river’s immediate horizon has spouts of white water kicking above it and there is the unmistakable sound of water crashing against rocks. Emily, with an ever calming voice gives the internally good advice, “whatever happens, stay calm”. Before adding, “Just keep an active paddle in the water and you’ll be fine”. And that was that.
With a healthy dose of luck and everyone vehemently following Emily’s suggested line through the rapids every learner kayaker comes out of the rapids the other end. Most, if not all, of them are still in their kayaks. But everyone, without exception, has the unmistakable grin on of someone who might have just stumbled across their new passion, white-water kayaking.