As a kid from Warrington with big dreams about kayaking, the films from the sport were everything to me. One of the images that always struck me as downright bonkers was a kayaker dropping into the hole at Number 9 on the Zambezi.
The whole of that film, kayakers are pushing hard to get away from that monstrous hole but then here comes James Hitchins calmly floating towards the middle of the rapid and committing to duck diving the meat of the hole. I was, and still am, blown away by the commitment to send that line on such a powerful, consequential rapid.
A little over ten years later I was looking at the same image I had grown up watching, just this time the worn out DVD wasn’t skipping frames, I was stood on a cliff edge and it was real life.
We where stood overlooking the rapid Number 9 on the Zambezi. Water levels had been rising solidly throughout the week and the rapid had been growing bigger and more powerful by the day. The hole at the top of the rapid was looking huge and we had previously been pushing hard over the curler to get away from it. But we had just watched the Zambezi segment from Burning Time and Benny Marr was keen to go for the duck dive on the hole.
It didn’t look like a particularly pleasant line to me and it had the potential to be a miserable experience. Still chances to ride such a powerful piece of water don’t come around everyday, I love the mental battles with pushing myself through these situations and Benny’s stoke for it had me fired up and agreeing to send it.
Benny went first and I watched him roll up to the hole thinking ‘OMG! It’s just like the movies!’.
Benny nailed it and got pushed straight through the hole which was definitely confidence inspiring but still Benny is in my mind the best big water kayaker in the world and also a good few kilos heavier than me …
Here’s hoping for the same quick exit out of the hole I got into my kayak and made my way out to the middle of the river. It felt very strange to be in the middle of this horizon line. I have a lot of laps down this rapid and I always lined up much further left.
My brain was screaming at me – ‘Left, we need to be more left, definitely more left’.
I came to the ramp down into the hole and stared at one of the biggest holes I have (thankfully) ever been this close up and personal with. I forced myself to stop staring at the frothing foam pile, to tuck up on the front of my kayak and commit to whatever came next. I felt the water slam into me, felt chaos, felt like I was moving downstream and then back upstream, more chaos and then I felt myself moving downstream and popped up on the back side of the hole.
Delighted to make it through I kayaked down the rest of the rapid and filmed Dane dropping in. He also came straight through.
Reviewing the footage that night I decided I was not as far middle as I could have been and dropped it again the next day, this time exactly where I wanted to be and again came straight through.
Our friend Sam Bradford sent it a few days later and got stuck in the hole for a decent little time before tumbling out of it. Not a big beatdown by any means and nothing bad happened but a glimpse into what could happen on this line had us all calling it a day for sending the James Hitchins line, this season.
Lines like this are not made up of multiple technical moves but there’s a skill to them all the same. I love that in the same sport I can kayak small techie creek lines and then go out and hit pieces of water that look like they belong in the ocean. For anyone else fired up on this sort of line just remember; if there’s a lot going into it, there’s a lot coming out of it. Mostly.
See you on the water, Bren