Adventure-junkie, Steve Hynd, is a member of the Mountain Club of Uganda (MCU); through MCU, he discovered Jinja, the adventure tourism capital of East Africa, and Kayak the Nile. Here, Steve explains why the River Nile is an unlikely – yet remarkable – place for both beginners and seasoned adventurers to kayak. Follow Steve on Twitter @steve4319.
Waves crash 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 throw me out of the boat and into the white-water.
A few minutes later, the perilous waves that were surrounding the kayak are replaced by 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 their introduction to the white-water kayaking course on the River Nile in Uganda.
Located a few kilometres to the north of Jinja, arguably the adventure tourism capital of East Africa, the Bujagali Lake on the River Nile offers a more tranquil start to the beginners’ learning experience. There begins the kayaking course with an introduction to basic kayaking, as well as safety and rescue techniques. This large section of flat-water provides a serene and picturesque area for first-time paddlers to practice their skills.
The kayaking instructors are phenomenal. Out on the water that morning was two-time British champion, Emily Wall. Perhaps more important than her experience competing at the highest levels of freestyle kayaking, though, is her patience and obvious enthusiasm for teaching beginners. Out on the water, she uses metaphors to explain the movement and science behind kayaking; whether through skiing or surfing, Emily finds an analogy that relates to each of her students.
But it’s not just the instructors who make learning to kayak at the source of the Nile special. Other reasons explain why this is an unlikely, yet remarkable, destination for those who wish to learn how to kayak.
Firstly, 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; this mean that you can guarantee that you will have big-volume rapids to learn on.
“I have kayaked across five continents, yet I’ve chosen to call the Nile home…”
Secondly, the average monthly temperature in Uganda is relatively consistent throughout the year; most days you can expect the temperature to rise to the high twenties. In short, it’s always shorts and t-shirt weather and rarely, if ever, will you have to throw on a wet suit.
Thirdly, the rapids on the river range from grade 1 to grade 6 with an almost infinite number of lines into the rapids. There really is something for everyone, regardless of ability – or confidence – level.
And finally, Emily herself best explains why the Nile is an ideal place to learn how to kayak: “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 round!”
In the afternoon, the beginners head out to explore the ‘training ground’ downstream of Bujagali Lake. Of course, fresh faced kayakers are not thrown straight into grade three rapids. Most of the afternoon is spent practicing breaking in and out of fast flowing water (and invariably putting rescue and swimming skills to practice).
As the afternoon draws on, the sense of excitement in the group grows. The 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, in her ever-calming voice, gives good advice: “whatever happens, stay calm”. Then she adds: “Just keep an active paddle in the water and you’ll be fine”.
And that was that. Everyone vehemently follows Emily’s suggested line through the rapids and everyone comes out of the rapids the other end. Most, if not all, of the kayakers are still in their kayaks and everyone, without exception, has the unmistakable grin on of someone who might have just stumbled across their new passion: white-water kayaking.
Words and photos: Steve Hynd