[Editor’s note: Nile Special is a wave and rapid on the White Nile river in Uganda. In the next few days a new dam will flood the rapid and surrounding area.]
Water rushes under my boat. I feel the warm waters of the White Nile flow between my fingers as I trail my hand behind me. I edge gently from side to side, gliding smoothly across the wave. I feel connected; like I could speak to the wave and get a reply. I try to take it all in. The sky is filling with a bright orange glow as the sun drops towards the horizon. The birds dart and dance over my head. Friends from all around the world are in the eddy and on the bank, sharing this emotional moment. The local kids watch on, hoping for something spectacular.
I’ve been at Nile Special all day; and I’ve already had some amazing surfs; but today was far more than that. It was a celebration. It was recognition of a Special place, soon to be lost. We party-surfed, danced with the kids and shared a poignant last beer from the cooler, a Nile Special of course. But this is it. My last surf. Ever. The wave is perfect. Steep, green and just a little pile. I take the rope from Amos for the last time and carve my way on. The green runway opens out in front of me. I lean forward, my boat accelerates down the wave. I drive in the edge and whoosh! I’m flying. Boom. The hull of my boat lands back on the wave. A glorious airscrew. One of my best. But there’s that beautiful green runway again. Whoosh, booom. Pan-am. Whoosh, boom. Back pan-am. My friends are hollering, and I am stoked. I punch the air and grin ear to ear … Oh Nile Special! It’s as though she knew this was our last time together!
I settle the boat back into a surf. I want to say thank you. And though I wish with all my heart I didn’t have to, I need to say goodbye. I trail my hand in her magical foam pile: a heartfelt hug. We connect. I whisper a private goodbye. My heart is full. Sadness. Love. Happiness. Joy. Harmony. Loss. Closure. Peace. Nile Special: for everything you gave us, for everything you were … thank you.
It is so hard to put into words everything that Nile Special [the wave, rapid and surrounds] means to each and every one of us. We all have our stories and so many of them include the phrase ‘it changed my life’ or ‘it was the best day ever’.
It’s not just a wave we mourn.
It’s all the times we’ve shared with friends from around the world.
It’s the glowing orange sunsets.
It’s the silhouetted palm trees.
It’s the clouds of swooping swallows that dance with you as you float down the wave-train.
It’s the feeling of flying we get for ourselves, our kayak exploding into the air as we fire down the face of the wave.
It’s the squeals of delight from the kids on the bank.
It’s people we meet. The friends we make. The forever bonds, forged in stoke and bathed in sunshine.
It’s watching local kids grow up: Amos, Martin, Ivan and so many more. Seeing them use the skills they’ve learnt from visiting paddlers to create new opportunities for themselves.
It’s the moonlit surf sessions.
It’s eating fresh pineapple while cheering your friends as they achieve new things.
It’s crazy party surfs with the best boaters in the World.
It’s THAT eddy.
It’s a community that embraced us.
It’s the whole feel and vibe of a place, like no other.
And just downstream, Hairy Lemon Island, a whole other special place. A book full of words could never capture the unique paradise that was cultivated there, and all the memories it hosted.
I stood atop the hill overlooking Nile Special rapid for the last time. The orange sunset had given way to a deep indigo sky. A big blood moon hovered behind me. My mind raced, struggling to imagine the vast lake that will soon have drowned everything I can see. Farmland destroyed, habitats ruined, animals killed. Sometimes sacrifices have to made ‘for the greater good’, but with Isimba I see no greater good. Uganda already has more power than it needs. Another dam downstream will create large amounts more. The area to be flooded is huge, for very little return. Uganda is already defaulting on its repayments to China. I’m struggling to see any silver lining. Tears fill my eyes as the pointless loss.
I’m sorry Nile Special. Humanity is selfish, and you deserved better.
– photos by Alex Neal and Lowri Davies