Wednesday,September 23,2020 06:25 AM

Tricks on the Nile

By Vision Reporter

Added 9th February 2015 05:03 PM

Kayakers gathered to show off how they maximise the river’s waves and rapids, as well as appreciate the Nile. Shannon Orcutt captured the action

Tricks on the Nile

Kayakers gathered to show off how they maximise the river’s waves and rapids, as well as appreciate the Nile. Shannon Orcutt captured the action

Kayakers gathered to show off how they maximise the river’s waves and rapids, as well as appreciate the Nile. Shannon Orcutt captured the action

Last week, kayakers from around the world participated in the annual Nile River Festival, which took place over four days outside Jinja. This was the 10th year the community river festival has been held. Hundreds of spectators attended the festival to watch kayakers take on the challenging rapids and share in the appreciation of the river.

The festival, organised by Kayak the Nile, in association with Nile River Explorers and Visit Jinja, included four stages.

After each day’s competition, spectatorsand competitors headed to the Nile River Explorers and the Hairy Lemon for live music, food, drinks and a huge party.

Two-time Nile River Festival Champion and co-owner of Kayak the Nile, Sam Ward said: “The festival brings together an eclectic mix of people from the nearby villages, Kampala, all over Uganda and the world, celebrating the river as the kayaking and non-kayaking community comes together.”

For Zachary Clemence, his first time attending the festival was “an amazing event.

There are hundreds of people out here by the river enjoying the beautiful day, watching world-class kayakers paddle. Couldn’t get much better than that.” Jessie Stone, a sponsored kayaker, who founded Soft Power Education in Jinja, has competed almost every year since the festival began said: “Considering all the fear mongering about Ebola in Africa and how tourism in general has been down, it is really nice to see that so many people have showed up to support the festival and come out and watch it.”

DAY 1 - Big air ramp

The competition kicked off on January 22, with the Big Air Ramp. Competitors slid down the 14-metre ramp, completing tricks both in and out of kayaks to impress the crowd. Yusuf Basalirwa came in first, followed by the youngest competitor at the festival, 11-year-old Craig Dahl, who came  second. Jackson Two, a river guide for Nile River Explorers came in third out of the 17 participants.

DAY 2 - Extreme endurance race

The second day of the festival was the Extreme Endurance Race in which the 30 competitors raced the length of a marathon from the Bujagali dam to the Nile Special rapid. For safety purposes, racers competed in pairs and were required to arrive at the finish line together.

Musa Mutamba and Jackson Two came in first, kayaking the marathon in an impressive two hours and 32 minutes. The two began training together three months before the festival in order to win the race for the third year in a row. David Luhiho and Nasser Balimugulira placed second and Sam Ward and Shaggy Setkate were third.


An enthusiastic crowd gathered to watch the kayak competition

DAY 3 - Big air competition

The most exciting and challenging events were scheduled over the weekend. On Saturday, the Big Air Competition took place at Nile Special wave.

River waves are similar to those found in the ocean, but do not move, making it possible for kayakers to surf these features and throw a variety of spins, flips and twists in the air as they surf.

The competitors’ best three moves were counted and judged based on the difficulty of the move and how well it was executed, with extra points for combinations and flair. Sam and Emily Ward placed first in the men and women’s freestyle competition.

Bren Orton placed second followed by Stephen Wright in third.

DAY 4: HEndri Coetzee Memorial, Itanda falls extreme race

This was the final day of the competition. Itanda Falls is a class V rapid and one of the most difficult. Ward described the extreme race as “one of the hairiest and scariest races in the world.” It is named in memory of Hendri Coetzee, a legendary exploratory kayaker in Africa who lived in Jinja and led the first full descent of the Nile.

Paddlers raced each other in pairs, with the fastest five competitors moving onto the final. The final round was purely judged by style, where paddlers were free to do whatever they felt was most impressive, including surfs of huge hydraulics with remarkable tricks. Sadat Kawawa placed first and was followed by David Luhiho and Musa Mutamba.

Sadat Kawawa, who is also a member of the Ugandan Freestyle Team who has run the difficult Itanda rapid nearly every week for the past 3 years.

“Every single time I’m on top of that rapid, my heart always shakes, but you have to do it. Once you do it, it is big fun,” Kawawa said.

Thomas White, a photographer living in Kampala, has attended the Nile River Festival for the past three years and learned to kayak on the Nile. “I have really enjoyed watching all the amazing kayakers with their impressive skills and I am working up to maybe entering next year.”

The competitors

The majority of the competitors are professional kayakers and raft guides who work on the Nile, but the festival also drew a number of international competitors.

Musa Mutamba was crowned the overall champion and won $500 (sh1.4m) from Nile Breweries. Mutamba is a raft guide and kayaker from Jinja. He is also on the Ugandan National Freestyle team and will be traveling to Canada in September to compete in the World Freestyle Championship. Musa has competed in the past three festivals but this year stepped up his preparation.

“I was training hard every day for three months and I am happy for my victory,” he said.

Sam Ward was second, followed by Bren Orton, a professional kayaker from World Championship and European Junior freestyle champion.

Aminah Nakiirya, a kayaker for Nalubale Rafting and member of the Ugandan freestyle team, was the overall women’s champion, winning sh250,000.

Many of the international competitors have won numerous European and World championships and yet impressively, as Ward noted, the festival had many of the local boys competing and beating them all.

“If those guys can beat some of the best paddlers in the world that establishes them as top-level paddlers.”

Ten of the competitors are members of the Ugandan Freestyle Team, which is training to compete at the World Freestyle Championships in Canada later this year. Sadat Kawawa, who placed fourth at the festival and is a member of the team, cannot wait to hold up the Ugandan flag at the world championships.

“I am very sure we are really good kayakers and will do well. People will want to go to Uganda to see the river and where we trained,” he said.

Ward added that Ugandan paddlers have incredible talent, but not the funds to back it, so looking for sponsors to support this incredible project will hopefully change some peoples lives.

The national freestyle team will represent Uganda in championships in Canada this year

Sport under threat

Unfortunately this might be one of the final years for the festival, which is threatened by the construction of the Isimba dam. The dam would create a huge reservoir, which has the potential to drown nearly all of the remaining rapids on the commercially rafted section of the Nile.

Not only would the dam destroy some of the world’s most powerful rapids, but it would also force thousands of people from their homes and devastate Uganda’s tourism industry.

During the construction of the Bujagali dam that was completed in 2012, destroying half of the rapids in Jinja, the World Bank signed an agreement with the Ugandan government that it would protect conservation areas and the remaining whitewater. However, construction is now underway for another dam, which has the potential to flood the remaining rapids and break the agreement.

“This stretch of the river is amazing for its whitewater and for its input into the Ugandan economy. If you get rid of the waves on the Nile, tourism is going to take a massive hit and Jinja will not recover from that,” argued Thomas White.

For Sadat Kawawa and Musa Mutamba who both work and train on the river, the effects from the dam would be devastating. According to Kawawa, “If they build the dam, then me and my family will suffer. Ugandans need more power but we still need our nature. If we built the Isimba dam, it means in the future my kids will never have a chance to see those rapids. It would be really sad.”

“If they build the big dam there will be no more rafting and no kayaking. There will be no more rapids so we are going to lose everything.

If they build a smaller dam maybe we can keep going,” said Mutamba, explaining the view that a smaller dam would still produce substantial power while protecting the rapids.

Tricks on the Nile

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