A woman in a man’s life jacket – Nicola Simpson

Raft guiding on big volume rivers like the Zambezi is hard work, and normally reserved for tough men who manhandle these big rafts through the monstrous rapids with brute strength combined with well polished skills. There are women who step up to the challenge though, and more often than not, display a certain kind of finesse in doing so. Nicola is one of that special breed of women who succeeded in earning the respect of their more muscular counterparts in this tough environment.


1992. Rafting season on the mighty Zambezi, Victoria Falls. First African Woman River Guide. Grade 5 rapids, big holes, steep gradients, diagonals that hold boats and surf. Big Surf. Terminator, Devil’s Toilet Bowl, Oblivion. Aching arms and back. Bleeding hands, cracked ribs. Open infected wounds from oars smacking into shins, bruised hip bones. Black eyes from surfing in rapids with flying paddles and oars. Swimming so deep below the surface that ears pop, nose bleeds. Dark, murky, quiet. No sympathy from anyone. “You want to be like us – show us you can – carry the boat, pump the tubes and thwarts, fix your own oar rig.” Some 23 km of rowing a day. A sizzling 40 degrees Celsius heat in the gorge. Walking out at the end of the day, against a two-in-one gradient. Cool refreshments at the top, the elation from clients whose expectations have been surpassed. And tomorrow I get to do this all over again. Bliss. (more…)

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zambezi slider

Zambezi, Zimbabwe, Zest

When you have paddled the Zambezi a number of times, you sort of just remember the intimidation of rapid no. 9 and the big wave at 12B, and you forget the details.

I mean details like the ferry at 1, just below the Boiling Pot and just above the Wall; the smooth wave at 2 with a decent size hole right next to it; the bouncy, sometimes violent wave at 3; the tight line over the Dragon’s Back on 4 (Morning Glory) when the water is low; the boof or the clean line next to it in 5 (Stairway to Heaven); the big wave train at 6 (Devil’s Toilet Bowl); the huge diagonal you have to break at 7 (Gulliver’s Travels) after which you have to negotiate the Land of the Giants; the big drop and massive hole of 8 (Star Trek), which can hit you hard if you miss the window; the big waves at 10; the nasty boils at 11 (Overland Truck Eater) which get on your nerves no matter how many times you’ve run it; the huge wave trains at 12A and C; the huge waves and some big holes at 13 (the Mother), 14, 15 (Washing Machine), 16 (Terminator) and 17; and then of course the temperamental big, violent, thrashing hole at 18 (Oblivion) which will sometimes take mercy and spit you out in seconds, and other times give you a solid beating before letting you go.

You forget these details when you’re somewhere else, living another adventure or slaving away in the office. But every time you return to the mighty Zam, you fall in love again with the big water, the big lines, the big waterfall, the big gorge, the big hikes at the put-ins and take-outs, the big heat, the big hippos and big crocodiles. (more…)

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