I am a dreamer. There is barely a second in the day where my mind is not drifting off on into some sort of surreal adventure. Suffice it to say, during my days at school I had ample time in which to transport myself out of biology class and onto some river, somewhere. For all of the rivers and adventures I dreamed of there was one river that featured as the centrepiece of fourteen-year-old Bren’s dreams, the Zambezi.
The images from Scott Lindgren’s film Black Book of Steve Fisher surfing the barreling wave, Dale Jardine’s swim on the Minus Rapids and James Hitchens sending the centre line of Number 9 are burned into my brain.
Ten years later and I finally got to live out one of my child hood dreams, I kayaked on the Zambezi river. I have had an amazing time in England this past month but I was also getting pent up with the lack of rain in the forecast and winter began ushering in it’s frigid, un-ideal kayaking temperatures I was overcome with a desperate need to migrate towards warm weather and big water.
I booked my flight a week before leaving and I literally skipped off the plane into Livingstone. I would have skipped onto the plane in Manchester but for fear of one of the lads recognising me and calling me soft. Etihad Airways were also quite set on daylight robbery, they wanted to charge me three hundred and fifty pounds for overweight luggage. So I wore my PFD, helmet, spraydeck and three pairs of shorts onto the plane which drastically hindered my ability to skip. The nice people in Qatar however let me check my ‘outfit’ in and this enabled me to step off the plane with all of the enthusiasm and excitement of a child on the last day of school before the summer holidays, that has been promised a chocolate bar.
Alas, there was no chocolate bar. My kayak had not made the connecting flight (damnit Johannesburg airport!) and was going to be a day late. I spent the next twenty-four hours studying my watch and becoming increasingly upset with the person that invented time and why they decided to make it move so agonizingly slowly. I got my kayak the next day but it was too late to go kayaking and I had to wait until the third day of my trip to get onto the water. In this time my mate Dane had arrived and whilst I was upset to not get the chance to solo the river and find the lines for myself, I was also excited because Dane knows this river exceptionally well. Which meant that I would not have to scout anything and I would immediately know where all of the best lines are.
The stoke of getting to see each other again spurred us to head straight up to the Minus Rapids, which were brilliant. However at the current low water levels there was no tongue through the hole and for fear of taking the worst swim of our lives, we only ran them the once.
The rest of the river was everything that I ever dreamt of and more. The Zambezi river is a conglomeration of huge exploding waves, tight lines, chaotic lines and brilliant rapid after brilliant rapid. My personal favorites where Number 5 and Number 9.
Number 5 has the famous elevator line. Every time I sent this line I felt like the summer holiday, chocolate bar indulging child that had now been told that Christmas was coming early! That line is quite simply brilliant. It’s not a hard line and whilst you can get flipped by the holes below, at the levels I was here at there was nothing that would surf you and give you a kicking. Can you believe it? Finally something in life that is actually as awesome as it looks, with no catch, no hidden downsides and no fine print to steal your joy at a later date.
Number 9 is a tight line. I followed Dane off it blind the first day and didn’t understand his plan of where we going and how things would work out until ‘Woooosh’ I was landing on a narrow jet of water in between two monstrous holes. The centre line at number nine is completely blind and you can’t see it from the bank. This gave me some added pucker factor the second day of the trip when I had to run it on my own, as Dane was filming. I lined up on the horizon line much like a cat trying to find the comfiest place to lay down, except rather than the consequences just being a hard floor, my consequences would be falling into a huge hole and spending a prolonged period of time wishing that I had never began kayaking.
Thankfully I got the line right, Dane’s advice was to follow the bubbles. Which is actually pretty good advice on how to line this rapid up, when you find the right set of bubbles …
I really enjoy spending time on rivers and getting to learn their ways and to understand their characteristics, I also have a tendency to personify rivers. The Zambezi to me is a jovial fat child, that may have the odd temper tantrum when he or she doesn’t get the box of smarties they want at the checkout of the supermarket but by and large this river is friendly and just wants to have fun. There are undoubtedly rapids and spots on this river that could give you a rough time but there are an exceptional amount more that will turn that frown upside down and having you grinning from ear to ear. I have swallowed several mouthfuls of water down this river as I giggle amongst the huge waves, completely and utterly in awe of how brilliant it all is.
I loved the rapids and style of whitewater but the thing I loved most is just how much kayaking we got to do each day and how active you get to be as you hike in and out of the gorge. All in all I am stoked on the Zambezi and I am looking forward to many more trips to come!
See you on the water, Bren