The first annual Zambezi River Festival 2011, we came, we saw, we dubstepped!
Over the last week we were joined by about 35 people from all over the world for some awesome competitions, great off river activities and off the wall parties! Once everyone had arrived (mostly stress free, only a couple of bribes and unplanned stop offs to get the whole rabble into the country), and registered we headed out on the upper Zambezi for a Booze cruise on the Makumbi. This was a great opportunity for everyone to get to know each other, taste the local beverages, and the legend of Grubstep was born (you’ll have to come next year to find out exactly what that means!). The party carried on well into the night at ‘Jollygirls’, with some good humour and complete disregard for the long day on the river planned for the next day! For those that hadn’t been to the Zambezi before the next morning we set off for a familiarisation trip from rapid 1 to 25. We were joined by a cool group of non-kayaking festival goers in the raft, we had Wives and Girlfriends, locals, and folks who were just passing through town who’d stopped off to join us for the week. These guys joined us on the river everyday to help us out as a safety boat, take photos and just enjoy the river as much as everyone else! This first day on the river was an eye opener for some of us, some peoples expectations of the Zambezi were warped both ways, but in the end everyone finished the day with big smiles and cold Mosi, and after the long day a night game drive back to town gave us even more excitement with an elephant road block! That evening was spent at Jollyboys Campsite with a traditional meal of Nshima and stew accompanied by a local Zambian reggae band and dancers, it was a great introduction to any first timers to Africa!
Monday brought us our first day of competition, with the Down River Race, which I suppose probably should have been renamed the “Endurance”. When people come and raft the Zambezi, the one thing that everyone remembers whether they have ten swims or none is the walk out of the gorge, at 750′ deep the Batoka Gorge certainly makes you work to get your white water fix, so we thought we’d use this aspect to make a race like you couldn’t have anywhere else in the world! Competitors had to run into the Gorge at rapid number one, paddle to number 10 (portaging number 9, commercial suicide) and then run out at number 10 up the rickety ladder, with their boat and paddles at all times. Now, the porters do this every day, but some of our softer competitors (especially those bokke) had never had to do anything this hard before, and every one of them struggled, especially in the 40-50 degree heat! However, after a valliant effort from everyone, they all made it to the top of the gorge heaving and puffing, but with some incredible times, the winner Morgan, came in at under 1 hour for the 10km course. Our resident Kiwi lad, Owen, who decided that not wearing shoes would save time getting in and out of his boat, found that portaging on the hot rocks at 9 barefoot was not such a good idea, blisters and burnt feet don’t make for a quick exit out of the gorge! This slowed him right down, but he still finished as a hero, but unfortunately started the competition right at the bottom of the rankings. First place in the down river race went to Zambian Morgan Kabenga, second place to Zambian Windos, and third place to Zimbabwean Mikey Amos, these guys all came in within 10 minutes of each other, it was a very close race!
On day 2 we had “Big Air Day”, as a special treat for 15 of our competitors especially the ones with particularly wobbly knees, we threw them off the Victoria Falls Bridge on a swing in their kayaks! After picking our lucky 15 out of a hat, some of the Guys and Gals were super up for it, and couldn’t wait to chuck themselves off the bridge, some on the other hand weren’t so keen……….
After an exciting morning’s swinging and screaming we jumped on the river at the boiling pot and ran down to rapid number 5, where we held a boater-X style head to head race. Time dictated that we run people through the rapid 4 at a time, with the two winners going through to the next event. This was an opportunity for some pushing and shoving, and some great lines taken through a pretty big rapid! No one’s still quite sure whether it’s quicker to run the standard line or over the pourover with a massive boof, but one thing that did become apparent was that this was an event for the long boats over playboats! Morgan Kabenga came out on top again on day 2, was this a trend that would continue throughout the week? The rafting spectators had an exciting ride through number 5 today, with our smiliest spectators, Martin and Michelle calling to Go Big, the entire left side got caught in the Catchers Mitt, and an excellent swim was had by everyone, yours truly included!
We’d left all of our boats in the gorge on Tuesday evening, so it was super easy to walk in again on Wednesday to pick them up and head downstream through rapid 6, the Devils toilet bowl, to number 7 where we held the Slalom competition. Number 7, Gullivers Travels, is one of the longer rapids on the Zambezi, so the perfect place for some dipping and weaving in and out of eddies! Although all the paddlers did amazingly well on the tricky course we’d prepared, the highlights were Ian Coetsee taking on the course in a Ducky (inflatable kayak), getting some ends in the crease, and Peanut (Kate Walton) doing the whole thing upside down but hanging on until the end of the rapid, that girl’s got some balls! A short day on the water, after the slalom we ran back up the gorge following our noses to the smell of an awesome Braai put on for us at the lip of the gorge by James and Megan Hitchens, it was a beautiful evening, and a great way to watch the African sun go down.
Thursday was Rodeo day! This event was initially planned to be held at 12b, but with water levels higher than normal this year the wave at rapid 2 was in much better shape, so we decided to stop off under the Victoria Falls bridge for some surf sessions. During the festival competitors had to use the same boat for every event, and whereas the long boats were coming out on top for the first few races, today the playboats really came into their own. The most popular ride with the crowd was definitely the old school round, there were pop outs, paddle spins and shudder rudders galore, but the top two rides came from South Africa’s Andrew Kellett who managed to pop his deck, spin his paddle in one hand, surf from right to left and DIDN’T swim (although great, all the guys who work with Andy were super keen to see their boss meet Nyami Nyami!), and the Netherland’s Gijs Hardeman, who juggled his way onto the wave, dropping his paddle, and miraculously managed to catch up with it while flushing off the wave, legends both of them! This evening was another taste of Local Livingstonian hospitality, with Chantel at The Spot rustling up some delicious nshima and stew for the whole crew, this set everyone up nicely for a quick dip in the pool back at Jollyboys, WHIRLPOOL!!
With sore heads and raft paddles in hand, the next day we headed back into the gorge for the raft race. Everyone was mixed up into teams to race through 1-10, with a fantastic array of guides, they had Madonna, Lady Gaga or Wonderwoman to choose from! A sailing style start meant that there was plenty of jostling and trash talking going on in the boiling pot before racing off downstream. Team Anika (Madonna) were off to a flying start, finding a loophole in the rules to get an advantaged start over the boys teams, and stayed at the front all the way to the finish line. A few rules were thrown into the mix which made parts of the race more exciting for our fancy-dressed guides, everytime the rafts bumped on flat section, the guides had to swap seats, so plenty of swimming and scrambling from raft to raft took place between Dirk (Wonderwoman) and Steve (Lady Gaga). On rapid number 8 the rafts were required to take the “Star Trek” line with minus points for chickening out. Dirks raft definitely went for the meat of this rapid, with some awesome GoPro footage from Ant showing just that “hey, why we heading left here pal, PADDLE PADDLE!” with a classic clip to follow, although there was some discrepancies with the other teams as to where Star Trek actually was, without arial footage we’re still not quite sure if they made it! It was fantastic to have everyone mixed up together in the boats, and to see some good teamwork going on between everyone, even between some of the teams, with the “tea breaks” that Dirk and Steve’s teams needed to take together to make it to the finish!
Then came the final. After totting up all of the scores the 8 finalists to race on the last day of the festival were from 7 different countries from 4 different continents, just goes to show how international this event really was! Our fearless finalists were: Kazuto Mamiya of Japan, Andrew Kellett of South Africa, Windos of Zambia, Mikey Amos of Zimbabwe, Morgan Kabenga of Zambia, Timo Bellen of Germany, Owen Glover of New Zealand and Phil Gibbins of Australia. The guys had no idea what the last race would entail until they got to the top of the gorge and were given rafting jackets, clients paddles and told that their boats were at the bottom waiting for them. At this point the penny dropped for most of them – Duckies. Yep, they were racing through some of the biggest volume rapids that anyone paddles in an inflatable kayak, as you can guess they were all pretty excited! Between 7 of them (due to unfortunate circumstances Windos missed the start of the race), on 9 rapids they took 26 swims in total, quite the tally for booty beers later in the evening! All of the lads did a sterling job, and in the end the race was super tight, although Morgan has been dominating earlier in the week his poor start at number 1 took it’s toll, and Aussie slalom paddler Phil Gibbins took the crown, charging to the finish line as quick as if he’d been in a hard shell kayak. Second was Owen Glover, who, as he’s working in Livingstone, is classed as a local paddler, and third was Timo Bellen, the baby of the competition who only turned 20 the day before the final.
That evening was the prizegiving at Fezbar. There were prizes galore from all of our amazing sponsors: Water By Nature, Pyranha kayaks, Fluid kayaks, Palm Equipment, NRS, Kayak the Nile, Kathmandu, Angle Zambia, the Waterfront, Protea Hotel, and Max Bilbow with Means of Production. Every single person who entered the competition got a prize from one of these guys, which put everyone in a great mood for booties beers and the craziest party Livingstone had seen in a while (and that’s saying something!). Overall the whole week went with a big bang, but we couldn’t have done it without all the people that helped us along the way, Kim at Jollyboys was an absolute star all round, Graham at the Waterfront for transport and that delicious chili, Joie d’la Vie water for keeping us hydrated, John Zulu at Heritage Conservation for helping us out with the park fees, all of our prize sponsors, Matthews our star driver, Andy, Anika and Steve our guides who do a sterling job, I’m sure many many other people that I’ve forgotten about, and of course all of the people that came from all over the world to help make this week the success it was. Here’s to next year, 27th October – 3rd November, where we’ll come back bigger and better, hope to see you there!
Dubstep Dubstep Dubstep Dubstep.