Tag Archives: Kayak the nile

Some reflections on learning to kayak on the River Nile

Paddling past 'The Bad Place' on the River Nile

Paddling past ‘The Bad Place’ on the River Nile

I have always loved the outdoors and growing up I occasionally ventured out onto the flat waters of the River Wye, close to my parent’s house in the UK, to do some paddling with my local scout group.

As much as enjoyed these ventures out into the pleasant surroundings of the Wye valley, kayaking remained for me a sport that failed to conjure the passion or excitement of other sports I loved in my teenage years such as mountaineering, football or skiing.

When I moved to Uganda then, it took me almost a whole year until I was persuaded by friends into trying my hand at white-water kayaking on the River Nile.

In retrospect my biggest regret is that I waited this long to try it. Equally though, it was far from love at first sight, or perhaps a more appropriate axiom, all plain sailing from the start.

Getting off the water at the end of the first lesson I knew that a seed had been planted that had the potential to grow into a real passion. I made a conscious choice, despite feeling apprehensive, to give this seed the best chance possible to grow and booked myself onto an additional four lessons with the kayak school ‘Kayak the Nile’.

At that stage, I can remember distinctly feeling that my enthusiasm for kayaking could go either way. As much as I enjoyed the adrenalin of kayaking my first rapid, I also remember a few hours earlier the less pleasurable spluttering for air as I first attempted an upside-down ‘t-rescue’.

Looking back on the last 10 months of padding, I can see though that it was as much the spluttering for air moments, the times I had to work hard, to persevere at practicing skills as it was the exciting splashing down rapids that have helped grow my initial excitement into a real passion.

The hours I spent alone in mate’s swimming pools practising, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, my flat-water role and the sense of achievement at now rolling in (quite) big white-water stands as just one illustration of this.

Unlike some friends that I see now out on the water I don’t feel like kayaking came naturally to me. It took me a bit longer than what I have observed to be ‘normal’ to start feeling relaxed out on the water and especially upside-down.

Even now, 10 months after starting this sport, I still feel panicked when I move into territories that are new to me. Just last weekend I went to surf a wave that was much larger than I was used to and this filled me with an apprehension that, at least in part, dictated how I kayaked on the wave.

It only seems fair at this point to give a virtual hat-tip to the instructors of ‘Kayak the Nile’ who seemed to instinctively know that when I said my goal was to ‘feel in control on the wave’ I was not just referring to the physical challenge of staying up-right but the psychological one of staying relaxed and confident.

Without the careful and consistent guidance of the instructors I am convinced that my seedling of passion planted on that first lesson could easily have been flushed away at any moment.

For as much as I am grateful to the instructors though it is an interesting reflection to note that learning to kayak is also a lot about learning to understand and control yourself. It is not just about taught new skills.

It might sound like an exaggeration to say kayaking teaches you to ‘learn about yourself’ but from a personal experience I can say that one of the most rewarding parts of learning to kayak has been the journey of learning to stay psychologically more in control (for I still don’t feel 100% in control) out on the water.

My passion for kayaking on the Nile though goes beyond all of this.

There is something really profoundly special about being about being on such a huge powerful expanse of water.

Out the Nile I feel something comparable to how I do in large mountain ranges. I feel a sense of my own size and vulnerability in the grand scheme of nature, I feel a sense of wonder at the amazing beauty that surrounds me and a sense of profound appreciation that I am lucky enough to have experienced it.

Even the experience of being near the Nile the night before feels magical. I love waking up after camping on the banks of Nile to see the strong sunlight breaking through the trees with the sort of intensity you only really get on the equator. I love lying in my tent hearing the powerful sound of the water in the rapids carving itself through the rocks in the Nile. I love the, admittedly quite hippy, idea that kayaking is about harnessing the amazing power of nature and working with it.

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Most of all though I think enjoy sharing this passion with people. I love seeing friends do their first lesson, first roll, or first trick on a wave. I love watching those with less experience than me and seeing them progress as much as I love watching those with far more experience than me and feeling that mixture of aspiration and dread about what I might, or might not, be able to achieve in the future.

When I move away from the paddler’s paradise of the River Nile I have no idea if this passion will stay with me but I do know that at this moment I really hope it does.

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Nile River Festival 2014: Sun, beer and some mind-blowing kayaking

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Well over two hundred faces looked on. Each face, for different reasons, stared intently out at the flowing river. From the bank the competing kayakers stood with tops off drying themselves in the afternoon sun eyeing up their opponents bobbing in the water as they waited to take to the rapids.

Spread out over the rocks spectators sunned themselves with cold beers in hand as excited children pushed passed unsuspecting viewers to get perilously close the water’s edge to ensure the best view of the unfolding spectacle.

Sat on the banks of the River Nile, this incongruous group was there to watch the freestyle competition on day three of the white-water kayaking festival, ‘Nile River Festival’.

No one left disappointed.

The festival, now grown into a four day event that attracts competitors from across the world including Russia, the UK and of course the home grown talent of Uganda, is an annual highlight for tourists and extreme sports junkies alike.

The spectators stood on outcrops of rocks on the banks in the bright afternoon sun watching on as competitors such as Sam Ward, team GB coach and co-owner of Kayak the Nile, took to the ‘Nile Special’ rapid to compete against some of the best kayakers from around the world.

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As the afternoon progressed, the crates of empty beer bottles stacked behind the bar started to grow as the sun slipped behind the opposite bank of the river. The kayakers who had not progressed passed the earlier heats now encapsulated the spirit and ethos of the festival by staying, supporting and joking with the remaining competitors.

Out on the river the final four competitors were doing their all to raise a cheer from the crowd and to impress the on looking judges. If the faces of some of the local children who sat huddled together completely engrossed at the competitors acrobatics were to go by then all four kayakers deserved to win.

Despite the Ugandans getting the inevitable loud cheers for every trick completed it was the Brit, Sam Ward, who, after a long afternoon’s performance, came in victorious in the men’s competition.

As the event came to a close streams of children squeezed past the legs of the flip-flop laden spectators who now scrambled up the dry banks of the river – a task made no easier, but certainly more funny, by the afternoons beer.

The Nile River Festival provided an extremely satisfying afternoon filled with sun, beer and some mind-blowing kayaking.

My advice…keep an eye out for the Nile River Festival 2015. But if you can’t wait until then, why not drop Sam at Kayak the Nile an email and give it a go yourself?

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Adventure holidays and trips in Africa for 2014

This article was written as part of The Guardian’s ‘Adventure Sports Series’.

Kayak the Nile
From kayaking the Nile and mountain biking in the shadow of Kilimanjaro to exploring Africa’s amazing national parks.

Jinja, Uganda, is a town on the banks of the Nile that is gaining a reputation as the extreme sports capital of east Africa. This is, in part, thanks to the range of whitewater rapids on the nearby stretch of the river Nile.

You can read the whole article on the Guardian Travel site by clicking here >>> 

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Learning to kayak the Nile

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.

Photo by Sim Davis

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!”

Photo by Emily Wall

Photo by Emily Wall

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.

Photo by Emily Wall

Photo by Emily Wall

More information:

Visit: www.kayakthenile.com/
Follow: www.twitter.com/kayakthenile
Email: Info@kayakthenile.com

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