Start them young

Most paddlers would like their children to paddle. Most paddlers are unsure of how to go about it, but they give it their best shot. Sadly, most paddlers fail.

Paddling is one of those rare sports that can be enjoyed from a very young age to a ripe, old age. For many, it is a lifestyle as much as it is a sport. Why do so few children get into paddling, and why do so many of those that do stop paddling when they finish school?

I have given this a lot of thought over the years, especially after my own children were born. The first question I often get asked when it comes to kids is: How young can they start?

There is no perfect age to start paddling. However, you can literally start getting them on the water as toddlers, as long as you do it safely. This may be an extreme example, but both of my kids went on their first six-day Orange River expedition – in a large raft – when they were 16 months old. For them, spending time on rivers is the most natural thing in the world.

Ruben helping me row my oar raft on a multiday trip on the Vaal River.
Ruben helping me row my oar raft on a multiday trip on the Vaal River – age 2

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Orange River – Blouputs to Raap-en-Skraap

This stunning piece of the Orange River in the northern Bushmanland passes through a largely unspoilt landscape. Indigenous trees line a 50m green strip of oasis along each river-bank before giving way to the multi-coloured desert. Apart from some minor rapids and some interesting channels between islands, a peaceful trip on flat-water is guaranteed.

  • Grade: 1 to 2
  • Length: 60km
  • Ideal for: Canoe, touring kayak, raft
  • Duration: 2 to 5 day, depending on craft
  • What to expect: Long flat sections, small rapids, many channels and islands, great scenery.
  • Dam controlled: Vanderkloof Dam, Bloemhof Dam
  • Access: Public land at put-in. Take-out on private property.
  • Download Google Earth doc

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Tankwa magic

Ever since I read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” way back as a student, I knew that I would have a bike one day. But like many good things in life, it took a long time before it became a reality. In fact, I didn’t even plan to be riding by now, it was on my “to do in the distant future” list.

Early last year, while chilling in China, I got a whatsapp from my buddy Jacques Holtzhausen. It was a short message: “Ek jeuk” (I’m itching). Followed by a picture of a motorbike. My response was just as short: “Ek’s in” (I’m in). By the time I arrived back in South Africa a few days later, Jacques was already well versed in motorbike nomenclature. I had to catch up quick.

Fast forward a few months, and we found ourselves in the Tankwa Karoo, a semi-desert region a few hours’ drive northeast of Cape Town. In December, of all months. The heat became a formidable challenge, but nonetheless we had great rides on some magical roads. The open skies, the expansive land and the endless dirt roads are the perfect ingredients for the type of trip where memories are made and pictures are taken. With cellphone cameras, nogal.


First day riding in the Tankwa.
First day riding in the Tankwa.

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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. Read More