Four Days on the Orange River
The Orange River is South Africa’s biggest and longest river. Despite having paddled many sections of the Orange, there are still some sections that neither Vagabond’s Celliers Kruger nor Graeme ‘Riverman’ Addison had ever been on. A number of weeks ago, Graeme gave us a shout to see whether we’d be keen for a winter kayaking trip to scout a lesser-known section of the Orange: the stretch between Prieska and Koegas. In writing his book ‘Run the Rivers of Southern Africa’, Celliers was mostly after whitewater, so he had never ventured to this area. We were in! (more…)
Runners, paddle for active recovery
For many months, you have been committed and dedicated to training for a long-distance running event. You’ve logged hundreds of kilometres on your feet in preparation to run the race. Now, with the race over and your medal in hand, it is time for a break – physically and mentally. Instead of seeking solace in your sofa, use paddling as an active recovery exercise to maintain fitness and be even stronger. (more…)
Paddling Race, 7 April 2019 (video)
The second edition of Paddling Race took place in overcast and rainy conditions on Sunday, 7 April 2019. (more…)
Monthly Paddling Race for everyone
There are club-hosted time trials (the domain of K1s and K2s), kayak races (also for K1s, K2s and, only recently, surfskis) and surfski events… But, there are no organised events for regular people with a sit-on-top in their garage that they only use for family holidays at the coast once a year. Enter Paddling Race, a new monthly event series held from the Likkewaan Canoe Club on the Vaal River in Parys. Only 125km from Johannesburg, Parys is a popular weekend-getaway destination with its cafes, antique and gift shops, B&Bs and an abundance of outdoor activities. While the town is known for whitewater rafting, the river here also offers magnificent stretches of flatwater paddling with beautiful riverine scenery. Birdlife is abundant and local paddlers never tire of hearing fish eagles and seeing grey herons, goliath herons and various kingfishers. Paddling Race has been created by Lisa de Speville and Celliers Kruger. Where Celliers comes from a paddling background that includes every conceivable kayaking discipline, Lisa’s focus has been on adventure racing, trailrunning and orienteering for over 20 years – both as a participant and event organiser. She is also the Event Director of the Parys parkrun and has been part of the impact that this running/walking event has had on the lives of people in her community. Together, Lisa and Celliers are the force behind Vagabond Kayaks. “Paddling needs to be more open, friendly and accessible,” Lisa says. “We’ll only get more people to paddle for pleasure when they have access to kayaks that are stable and enjoyable to paddle; when they have access to safe waterways that are located not too far from their homes and where there are fun, family-friendly events that they can participate in.” Lisa adds that events show people where they can go to paddle, exposes them to the area in a safe and controlled environment and builds their confidence and competence. Paddling Race offers 2km and 5km courses that take paddlers on a beautiful section of flatwater on a route that goes through channels and between islands. The event encourages participants to bring along any type of kayak: plastic sit-on-tops, touring kayaks, surfskis, K1s, K2s and even inflatables and stand-up paddleboards. Vagabond has a fleet of kayaks that can be hired for the event and PFDs and paddles are provided. The event takes place monthly, on the first Sunday of the month and the direction of the route alternates each time. “Our first event, held at the beginning of March, had 40 entrants,” Lisa says, “and only seven of the participants were people who paddle with some degree of regularity. The rest were infrequent, a-long-time-ago, or first-time paddlers. Yes! Yes! Yes! This is exactly why we created Paddling Race.” On the 5km course, the fastest time of 34:44 was logged by a 12-year old boy paddling a guppy K1. The slowest time of 1:13:00 was recorded by two double sit-on-tops paddled by a mom and dad (sporty, but first-time paddlers), each with a young child in the front seat. Five-kilometres is just the right distance. Lisa would love to see more Paddling Race-type events organised by other people around the country. “Think of Paddling Race as parkrun-for-paddling,” she says. Lisa advises event organisers to keep it simple by having two routes (max. 5km) and presenting the event at the same place, on the same route and at the same time each month. “We’re in the early days with Paddling Race. I hope to see good growth in the number and age spread of participants and the variety of kayaks over the next year.” Paddling Race is on Facebook at and full event information can be found on vagabondkayaks.com/paddling-race. Paddling: Barriers to participationPaddling has a number of barriers to participation that can position this superb sport in people’s minds as a pastime to only be enjoyed through kayak hire or using their sit-on-top at the coast on holiday. Instead, even in our cities, paddling is an activity that is accessible and low expense. Participation barriers Owning a kayak, PFD and paddle Instability of K1s offered by clubs to newcomers – a significant deterrent. Transporting the kayak (vehicle and roof racks) Access to water Perceived safety risks Solutions The first of these barriers can be removed when events and kayak clubs have equipment for rent or to borrow (as a club member). It goes without saying that sit-on-tops should be the first kayak presented to a newcomer. Events expose people to places where they can paddle. There are many waterways – dams and rivers – in and near our cities. Rivers are not all about rocks, rapids, tree blocks, strainers and other hazards; instead, there are more sections of flatwater available on our rivers than you would have the time to paddle in your lifetime. There are also estuaries and lagoons as well as the sea for coastal dwellers. Paddlers should always be aware of water levels, tides, wind and the changeability of the weather. Conditions on water can change in a flash from flat-and-calm to whipped-up white caps in a matter of minutes. It is always a good idea to paddle with a friend, to wear a PFD at all times and to know how to get back on to your kayak if you fall off. Published in the April/May 2019 issue of The Paddle Mag. This free digital publication bursts with superb content. It can be viewed online or downloaded from Issuu.
The glory of multiday trips
In my last article, I touched on multiday trips. Since then, I received a bunch of requests to write more about this subject. This is easy to fulfil as multiday trips have always been my favourite way to enjoy paddling. (more…)
Adventure racing paddle leg
Paddling is as much a recreational activity and fitness sport as a competitive discipline, but in the sport of adventure racing it has not achieved the priority of the land-based activities of trail running and mountain biking. Yet paddling is one of the four key disciplines (map-and-compass navigation being the fourth) and it is integral to this multi-discipline sport. (more…)
The quest for plastic supremacy
Materials used to manufacture kayaks have come a long way since the days of seal skin on driftwood frames. While there are still new kayak designs based on the concept of a skin on a frame, albeit with modern materials, the vast majority of kayaks today are made from composite materials or plastic. (more…)
Marimba vs Kasai vs Tarka vs Tsomo
We had fun racing our four Vagabond Kayaks sit-on-tops against each other. This video demonstrates the speed difference between them. (more…)
Getting in and out of your Vagabond kayak using the Stand-up Platform
This video has been on our to-do list for months. We recently took the featured pre-production Vagabond Tarka to our paddle club to take it for a spin. While there, we saw a chap struggling to get on an off a sit-on-top (of another brand). He almost fell into the water! There-and-then we shot this quick video of Lisa demonstrating how to get in and out using the Stand-up Platform. The Stand-up Platform is a key feature of our recreational sit-on-tops. It gives a flat surface for secure foot placement so that you can get in and out more easily. The superb stability of our boats adds to making it easier to get in and out without assistance.
School group trips the Orange on Mazowes
Back in August, a school group of 13 teenagers – guided by three teachers – headed for South Africa’s Orange River for their first river trip. They launched about five-kilometres above the Hopetown Bridge and paddled 62 kilometres towards Douglas over three days. As their Mazowe kayaks arrived only a day before they departed, they were a little sceptical to be paddling untested boats. “But, we were committed to these boats and took them along,” writes teacher and trip leader Ant Campbell. (more…)
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…)