X-Fest 2007

On the 17th and 18th the usually quiet banks of the Umzimkulu River would be transformed into a cacophony of bass music, announcements and excited, sometimes slurred voices of kayakers, mountain bikers and a host of other like minded people. A good recipe for fun and excitement. My account of the event will be unlike most people there as I missed out on most of the proceedings and did my own thing with a few people and wouldn’t change that for the world.

I had decided at the very last minute to go down to the festival and managed to secure a lift with Adrian Vroom. After an early departure from work, I raced home and started to pack. Traffic turned out to be against my lift and I had plenty of time to get my act together. The ginger bread man arrived, complete with trailer and a horde of people. Adrian and I sat up front initially, with Luke Longridge, Ernest Vosloo (Underground Ernie) and Everd sitting at the back. The drive down was pleasant and Luke and I had a few beers on the roughly 8 hour long drive! I remember now why I don’t paddle the Umkomaas or the Umzimkulu that often anymore. The 700 odd km drive down is pretty taxing for your average weekend. We arrived at about 23:15. There seemed to be a party already happening. The heavy mist/light rain had been present for quite some time and didn’t abate as we set up our tents. Off to bed for me.


Photo by Luke Longridge.


The following morning was beautiful and the cool temperatures were a pleasure after the humidity we had had on the drive down. Luke, Everd and I took a walk down to the river up to Boof-O-Matic. The water level looked low although I had paddled it lower and it was still fun. I explained the lines to them and we took a walk back to the marquee. We paid for our camp site and also for the extreme race. Too bad we didn’t even race.


Photo by Luke Longridge.


I was very keen to paddle the river right away and thought we could do it and still make our heats. Ernest, Everd, Luke and I put-in right behind the multi-sport event and had an amazing paddle down. We took our time, not scouting any of the rapids and just enjoying the beauty and ease at which our small group went down. I think it was one of the most enjoyable paddles I’ve almost ever had. Just really relaxed and pretty simple. Everyone was paddling well and things just clicked. Below Super Tubes we re-grouped and decided to take a few photos which we did. Boof-O-Matic came up first and then Ski Jump. There seems to be some confusion as to the naming of those last two rapids. Scott Reinders tells me that Ski Jump is actually called Surprise Surprise and the Boof-O-Matic we know is called Ski Jump. Not according to Mike Pennefather who is local to the area so I think I’ll go with old Mike. J No offence Scotty. In any case they are very cool rapids and I’d rate Ski Jump as probably my favourite rapid. It is just so much fun to paddle hard straight up towards to rock and then give a hard stroke on the left and launch off the lip, getting some air and landing flat beyond the hole and to the right. Most people just follow the water and go up to the rock and let the boat turn left. I find it much more satisfying to boof it properly. At a lower level you run the risk of breaking ribs on the left at the bottom if you don’t boof it, as was the case when I was there a while back.


Luke Longridge on Boof-O-Matic.


Ernest on Boof-O-Matic.


Ernest on Ski Jump.


Everd running Ski Jump.


Luke, Ski Jump.


Above the natural weir.


Below the natural weir.


Ernest on the natural weir.


Everd, natural weir.


There are plenty more rapids below Ski Jump and also the infamous Golf Course which is a really nice continuous section that just keeps on going. Further on, the natural weir which was nothing to be concerned of at the low levels we were experiencing. One small rapid after the weir and then the mean drop above the falls. Most people don’t run this rapid. It’s considered bad luck to run it because you’ll hurt yourself and then you’ll be in a bad mood and won’t want to run the waterfall. We decided not to run it and went to look at the waterfall. Luke ran Thrombosis Falls first and landed very flat. The impact was fully audible above the roar of the waterfall and we cringed as it happened. Luckily he was leaning forward and absorbed the impact nicely. Luke said his whole spine clicked all the way up on landing and later on his neck and back were sore. Not the ideal way to run it.

If you run the drop too far right, at this level, you tend to hit the rocks right below the lip and they tend to kick to nose up. Being too right can also mean resurfacing and being pushed against the right side. Sometimes this can be tricky, just ask the ginger bread man. At higher levels the hole is stronger on the right. On the left, there are some bad undercuts. At this level the main undercut is clearly visible but there is another one further underwater. First time I ran this drop I went under too far left and I heard and felt the boat scraping on rocks and I also had more downtime than what I should have. The water level was even lower. This drop is reasonably simple as the entry doesn’t really pose a problem. The hole above the drop is nothing but can be a little trickier at higher levels. Like all drops that are as high as this, there is always a danger of hurting your back. Be smart and have fun.


The winning photo above.

Luke Longridge landing VERY flat!


Adrian Tregoning on Thrombosis Falls.


Everd resting during the long hike up the hill.


I ran the drop after Luke and had a nice run, going down at a good angle and resurfacing upright. No one else wanted to give it a bash and we started the walk up. Correction, the hike up! What a mission it always is. Eventually we made it to the top only to find that no one would be picking us up. A few desperate phone calls but no one answered. Because old Vroom had walked back before, he decided not to pick us up and let us walk too. Nice! The walk back was long and hot and in total took us more than 2 hours of solid walking. The atmosphere back at the festival was good and we soon learned that we had missed our heats. We drank water, ate some food, watched the downhill mountain bike race and then decided to paddle the gorge again. This time Luke and I started again. Our muscles being a little tired, we weren’t paddling too well. Luke managed to properly mess up Slot Machine. Mine run wasn’t bad.


Luke high up on Slot Machine before getting pushed to river right.


Luke messing up Super Tubes. Guess our muscles weren't as sharp as earlier that day.


Luke styling Ski Jump.


I met up with Gareth, a local from Pietermaritzburg whom I had paddled with before, and he and his 2 mates joined us. The 5 of us bombed down and we showed them the lines. Apart from Luke managing to mess up Super Tubes as well, the run went well. A little blood in front of his ear but he was good to go. We both were not doing too well but still had good runs on Boof-O-Matic and Ski Jump. The remainder of the run was fun and at the end of the Golf Course I saw an otter in the water. Unbelievable! It is very rare to see one of these shy creatures in the wild these days. We came up to Thrombosis Falls and both Luke and I ran it again. I regret not running the rapid above the falls earlier that morning as I was feeling good then. Our runs weren’t too bad and we both managed to land upright again. Gareth decided to give it a bash but went too vertical and the curtain loaded up his deck at the bottom and popped it quite smartly. Victoriously holding up his paddle in the air he didn’t realise until the current pushed him right into the wall and he managed a pretty stylish rock splat that resembled more a squirt move than anything else. A swim ensued and another victim against between a rock and a hard, err, boat. Oh well, another day he’d have to do it again.


Adrian Tregoning, afternoon run on the falls.


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Everd on Ski Jump rapid and Adrian and Luke on Thrombosis Falls.


The walk out was tough, like usual. But at least we had dropped off Adrian Vroom’s bakkie off at the take-out thanks to the help of Neil O’ Leary. If I were to choose I’d go with having a vehicle at the take-out every time. It beats walking!

Back at camp, again, we relaxed a little and ate some food and drank a beer or two. There was a projector in the marquee and two awesome videos were shown to us. Various photos entered by random people, including myself were shown and the winners of the videos and photos were chosen by none other than Sean Wisedale. I recently bought his 4 pack of DVD’s, the man is a legend. For those who don’t know, he is the first person from Africa to summit the highest peaks in each of the seven continents, a very impressive feat from a very humble man. The videos were deemed a draw and 5 of the top photos were chosen. According to this one web site, there was no winner and five pictures were chosen. On that evening Sean chose my photo as the one he thought best represented the Thrombi X-Fest and the winner. We were pretty stoked and Luke decided to celebrate on my behalf too. This information seems to contradict that shown on the website as my photo does not even feature. In any case it doesn’t matter now. Perhaps that was done because professional photographers need to put food on the table, have an image and reputation to uphold and who would want to be beaten by some amateur with a crappy non-SLR camera. No offence to anyone. J 

I knocked off just before 22:00. The excitement of the day and all the physical exercise had taken it out of me. The following morning was perfect. Not a cloud in the sky. A slow start to the day and we walked down to Slot Machine to take some photos of the men’s final extreme race. They were pretty close as they raced by and almost an anti climax. We waited for the woman but they never appeared. I’m not even sure if there ever was a final. The freewheel competition was next and everyone was supposed to make their way down to the waterfall. We left early and arrived to find some other people there already.


The starting slide!

View downstream, taken from the camp. Incredible.


Men's final extreme race.

Men's final, Shane Raw, international paddler from Swaziland.

Men's final, Shaun Biggs.

Slot Machine.

More Slot Machine action.

Slot Machine viewed from below.


A different angle on Thrombosis Falls.


George running too far right and lifting his nose landing badly. Wonder how his back felt afterwards?


Something new.


Adrian Tregoning. I tried slowing it down and following the water. Pretty interesting. Some nice down time and lucky upright exit.


A nice view from below. Have a look at the undercut on river left.

Have a good look. At this level. Not too bad. At higher levels, think twice. Make sure your line is accurate. Bear in mind there are more dodgy rocks under these even at these levels.

Luke jumping from the top!


I shot it again and waited for Luke to come down. We both didn’t have the greatest runs at least I managed another upright exit. Both of us going too vertical and Luke managed to get some above average downtime. He said he felt the boat under some rocks. Pretty dodgy. We watched another run or two and then everyone disappeared. I guess the freewheel competition didn’t happen either. The walk out was tough like usual and the wait, long and hot. It had been an awesome weekend. We arrived back at the camp, only to find it mostly deserted. Perhaps the party the night before had been too much for most people especially Philip who drove back Sunday morning early without even touching the water.


Got to walk to the top of that hill...

Section below the Golf Course but above the natural weir.


We packed up everything and went for a final swim in the river to cool down. Off we went, only to loose Luke’s boat off the roof less than kilometre up the road. No damage at least. The remainder of the journey was eventless, apart from refreshing hail storm.

Thanks to all the sponsors and organisers that made this event possible. I’m looking forward to next year. Over and out. Well, not quite. Below are a couple of picture courtesy Luke Longridge. Thanks mate. Nice one ;-)


Adrian Tregoning getting ready for the waterfall. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Luke below the natural weir. Photo by Adrian Tregoning.

Ernest walking up. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Adrian Tregoning on Slot Machine. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Adrian Tregoning on Super Tubes. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Adrian Tregoning, Ski Jump. The most fun is that line. I love it!!! Photo by Luke Longridge.

Men's final extreme race. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Men's final extreme race through Slot Machine. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Thrombosis Falls. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Adrian Tregoning, Boof-O-Matic. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Ernest on Boof-O-Matic. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Adrian Tregoning running Ski Jump. The best line, in my eyes. :-) Photo by Luke Longridge.

Ernest on the best line too. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Everd opting to follow the water. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Adrian Tregoning on the natural weir. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Everd on the natural weir. Photo by Luke Longridge.


By: Adrian Tregoning

Photos by: Adrian Tregoning unless otherwise specified. Thank you to Luke Longridge for his contributions.

It takes ages to write up these articles and publish them. When I get positive feed back it makes it all worth while. Thanks for the great feedback and encouragement. L8er...


Adrian Tregoning stuffing Luke's throw bag. Photo by Luke Longridge.

Cheers guys! Hope you enjoyed!