Challenging the pre-production Pungwe and Vubu
Living near Asheville, North Carolina, Christine and John Vogler regularly paddle the Green Narrows, a challenging section of whitewater on the Green River where the river funnels through a gorge. There are extremely narrow channels, many class IV+ and V+ rapids and waterfalls that leave little doubt as to why this stretch is regarded as one of the most extreme kayaking runs in the eastern United States. (more…)
Paddling the Vaal River on a Kasai
Lee-ann Simpson, a novice paddler, recently tripped an eight-kilometre section of the Vaal River near the town of Parys. While her four friends were paddling slow-but-very-forgiving two-person inflatable rafts provided by the operator, she decided to paddle our Kasai sit-on-top. With virtually no experience, Lee-ann was the perfect candidate to demonstrate the Kasai’s key features: stability, ease-of-use and responsiveness. This is her story. It is August. Four friends and I have decided to whitewater raft a section of the Vaal River. There are a number of issues to consider: We are a group of girl-friends, away for the long weekend, looking to relax (rafting is not considered relaxing for some). It is August – it is still cold. The water on the section of Vaal River where we will be paddling has recently been badly polluted. We put all of these concerns aside and decided to go out and have fun. Lee-ann (left) with her friends. Before embarking on the trip, I mentioned to a family member that we were planning a river trip and she immediately hooked me up with a new Vagabond Kasai sit-on-top kayak. I must mention that I have limited experience of whitewater paddling, having only been on two paddling trips before. I expected that by using the Kasai for my ‘relaxing’ rafting trip, I would most likely end up wet, cold and frustrated. Still, I accepted the challenge and arrived at the launch with my Kasai in tow. To provide some perspective, I had been pretty vocal about my doubts of being able to successfully complete the trip paddling on my own. Nonetheless, my friends were very supportive of me choosing to paddle the Kasai instead of joining them in the inflatable two-person rafts (aka ‘crocs’) provided by the tour operator. The Kasai is marketed as a kayak for beginners but also for more experienced people wanting to have a bit of fun in the rapids. I figured I was at least one of these things, and therefore my chances were 50/50. My launch into the river was hair-raising. I slid down the bank with a chilly splash into the water. Luckily there were a few strong hands around to help steady me. Once I got my balance and started moving, nerves were replaced by excitement in anticipation of what would happen next. My beginner skills were immediately apparent. I had a few moments of wayward steering but never a worry with stability. The further we paddled, the better my steering and control became. We quickly came to our first rapid of the day, a fairly tame-looking beast with only a short stretch of bubbly water. The Kasai and I breezed through it and I earned a few ‘whoop whoop’ shouts from my friends. After this was a small drop of a about a meter high; this was also handled pretty well. Luckily I had experienced something similar on a previous outing on the Klip River and I remembered a few of the tips on how to paddle through it. My confidence was high, my friends were proud, the sun was out, my feet were dry (unlike the ladies in the ‘croc’ whose feet were submerged in water) and we were making good progress. Lee-ann successfully runs a small rapid in the Kasai. Things got real very quickly though. The guide came up next to me and said that ‘Big Daddy’ was next and that I should hang back to hit the rapid last so that both guides would be in position to help “extract me”. The other guide gave me thumbs up and mentioned something about me having a 20% chance of making it through unscathed. Of course this made me more determined and I reckoned that my odds must be better than their prediction. The guides instructed me to keep to the right of the rapid, but not too far right – and then to aim for the right-hand side of the island below the rapid. From the top I could see none of this but I aimed the nose of my Kasai in that direction, built up some speed, steered right, kept paddling, went over, paddled part way through the rapid and then capsized. I estimate that I made it at least 20% of the way through Big Daddy, swimming the rest. Ironically, my guide was in just the right spot to haul me out of the freezing water (something about this says he has done this more than once!), and we floated downriver to retrieve the Kasai. Strangely, I wanted to do it again. It was fun, it was challenging, it didn’t hurt, it wasn’t scary and I wanted to master this rapid. Sadly, that’s not how rafting trips work. Following the river’s flow, we pushed on. We soon came to ‘Suicide Mile’, a long, wide stretch of flatwater, with no rapids and lots of submerged rocks. While the girls were fighting to steer and paddle the ‘crocs’, I moved like a bullet. The Kasai came into its own, carving a neat path through the water, easily outpacing my friends and sitting rock steady. Bear in mind that I have no experience of flatwater paddling, boat control or any other skill that could have been helpful. I was having a ball. We ran another two small, bubbly rapids with ease and a few laughs, and then it was time for a long section with three decent-sized rapids one-after-the-other with no place to stop in between. This time the guides passed on no tips of which line to take and it was up to me to read the water. The guide paddled ahead and I stuck close behind him to try follow his line down. I made it through two of the three rapids without swims. The final part of the rapid was a bit tricky and that’s where I took my second swim of the day. The smile on the guide’s face told me that I had done well. Through the first two rapids he had even looked surprised to see me on his tail. Again, I was disappointed to swim but also driven to do it again (maybe in the summer). And with that, our trip was over. Two hours, eight kilometres, five girls, two guides, three inflatable rafts and one Vagabond Kasai. Lee-ann and a khaki Kasai. My overwhelming impression was one of having had a great time, despite the cold water and chilly weather. Would I do it again? Yes. Would I use the Kasai again? Yes! Do I need more experience? Probably, but I’ll only get this with more practice. Written by Lee-ann Simpson.
Called ‘seconds’ or ‘shuttle bunnies’, these are the people that provide support for paddlers. Their role typically involves taking a vehicle to the take-out point of a trip, or in the case of river races, meeting their paddler/s at multiple points along the river to offer refreshments and spare parts. More often than not, though, their unofficial duties extend to that of being a cheerleader, cook, navigator, paramedic, psychologist, physiotherapist and emotional punch bag. The list of task is endless. (more…)
First Vagabond kayak in production, the Kwando
Our first Vagabond kayak model in production is the Kwando, a high-performance children’s sit-on top. Celliers Kruger describes it as “not just a floating toy for kids, it is a real little kayak with good ergonomics and speed, as well as some handy fittings and features”. These photographs show the Kwando in all six colours together with some action images showing Celliers’ children: Ruben (9-years old, 38kg) and Kyla (12-years old, 44kg). “I designed the Kwando mainly for flatwater use, but it is very capable of running small rapids too,” Celliers adds. Parents, are you outdoorsy and active? Introduce your child to paddling with the Kwando. It is an ideal children’s kayak that will see them from bobbing on the pool to running small rapids on river trips.
Sneak peek at our footrest system
We have just received the first production footrests that Celliers Kruger designed for our new sit-on-tops. His aim with this footrest system was to create an easily adjustable, very robust system that is also lightweight and cool looking. (more…)
The folly of boat selection
In the 25-odd years that I’ve been involved in competitive paddling, many things have changed. One thing certainly hasn’t: the ego-driven idea that anyone who is paddling a stable boat is somehow inferior. The reality is that most K1 paddlers in South Africa are paddling boats that are actually too unstable for them. In this first instalment of my new ‘Opinion’ series, I would like to focus on the most basic decision when it comes to paddling: which boat to choose. (more…)
Are you tripping?
Imagine a boxer who never spars with a training partner. He skips rope and punches a punch bag to prepare for fights. The only time he ever gets to learn and experience fighting, is in an actual fight. Imagine a rugby team that runs around the field for fitness. They stand in a circle and pass the ball to each other to practice ball skills. The only opportunity they ever get to learn to play rugby, is by playing matches. Or, perhaps more relevant, imagine a slalom paddler who only practices gates on flatwater. Her only experience of paddling through gates in a rapid is when doing slalom races. (more…)
The value of vagabonding
Phones, bags, vehicles, possessions, connectivity and non-stop activities. This is what every day amounts to. A hubbub. Will our salvation come not from more technology but the annihilation of it by a solar flare to take us back to a time when we enjoyed a less frenetic pace of life? Without going to extremes, we can have the best of life 30 years ago and today’s always-connected state if we just learn to let go. Sometimes. Frequently enough to ground our feet, enjoy the simplicity of life and to truly value people, places and experiences. (more…)