First Gatsien Session of the Season!


The word had been out on the Whitewater Tangent for weeks, and the Sunday was finally upon us: the first water release on the Vaal for the summer. The canoeists were having a race, along the section above Parys, and had managed to convince the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) to release about 80 cumecs of water. I’m not sure how the canoeists always manage to get these water releases organised, but they do. Maybe it’s because there are a lot more of them around? If it was up to me we would have a water release every Sunday.

Based on last year’s release, it seemed the water would arrive in town on Sunday afternoon, so we (myself and my girlfriend Louise) headed down to Gatsien at around lunch time. We could see when we arrived at Stonehenge that there were some kayakers there already, and the place was closed, so we managed to skip the usual R15/head entrance fee (although you should ALWAYS pay the fee – we were told specifically by the few staff there that we got in for mahala on this day. Stonehenge is the only place where you can get access to Gatsien, and it would be unfortunate if anyone pissed them off and they denied us access).


Underground Ernie styling in the hole – if you are wondering what the thing on his arm is – it is a waterproof iPod (with waterproof headphones) case so you can listen to music while you paddle. If you also want to be a yuppie kayaker you can get them from Fluid paddler Andrew Pollock. Photo by Louise Coney.


The ‘dudes’ in the eddy. Waiting…


Brian Joubert giving it a go with some hand flippers. Look Ma, no paddle!


Richard Simpson and an unidentified passenger taking the croc for a spin.


A view upstream from a rock in the middle of the river – check all the hyacinth coming down.


We dragged the kayak, croc (for Louise), and gear down to the river, and paddled down to Gatsien. Earlier that day, when we drove over the river in Parys town, there seemed to be plenty of water, but it was not that full when we got to Gatsien – maybe 40 cumecs. A couple of people were already playing in the flushy bottom hole, including Brian Joubert and Celliers Kruger (of Fluid Kayaks fame). Brian is taking a break from his studies in Canada, and said that the river was rising – it had only been at 20 cumecs when he arrived a few hours before. So we got in and started playing, although the river was still a bit low. At one stage I was on the wave, when a flood of water hyacinth washed passed, and the river came up a bit more. This continued for most of the afternoon, and as the river rose to the expected 80 cumecs, a constant stream of this ugly weed came floating down.


Surfing gatsien.


Joe Klopper backsurfing.


Martin van Wyk going for a stern end.


Alan Grant working on his window shade. Hey, we all start there. You’re paddling great Alan! Keep up the good work!


A view downstream from the middle of the river, looking towards the hills. These hills actually form the ring of hills which surround the “Vredefort Dome” – part of the world’s oldest and largest meteorite impact site, and now a World Heritage Site.


Before we had headed to the river, we visited Danie and Phillipa van Zyl, and Danie said that he never paddles the first release, as all the crap upstream that has been building up through the winter gets washed down. But I reckon that is just being paranoid. These releases are rare – take advantage man!


In addition to the constant stream of hyacinth, a constant stream of kayakers kept arriving, until there were at least 30 of us on the bank or in the eddy. The queue in the eddy was over 10 boats long, and it was difficult to get into the swing of things, as you had to wait a few minutes between rides. I think that almost every kayaker on the highveld was down there, and it was nice to catch up with everyone at the end of the long dry season. There were mostly familiar faces, and a few new ones. Although it was nice for catching up, the queue in the eddy, possibly the longest in Africa (apart from maybe on the Nile), was not so good for paddling. Nonetheless, everyone gave it a good go, shaking off that winter rust. Louise and I spent a lot of time sitting on the bank, photographing people, rather than waiting in the eddy queue.


Robin Kock paddling down to join the eddy queue.


Brian Joubert and a cute dog that was arrived with the owner of the inflatable bodyboards. Celliers looks totally uninterested.


Luke Longridge preparing to surf the hole.


Going for it!


And safely on the wave.


The little dog, complete with PFD.


Luke Longridge in mid-split.


Luke Longridge making his time in the eddy worthwhile with some lekker ends.


Brian Joubert surfing nicely – check the stream of hyacinth in the background.


Since I had a croc, and a bodyboard, Louise and I decided to have a go on that, with a few attempted surfs in the croc, but no flips. I tried to get on to the wave with my bodyboard, but the lack of buoyancy made it quite difficult. Later, someone arrived with some home-made inflatable bodyboards, which were much more successful. You could wade up pretty much to right next to the foam pile, and dive onto the wave.


Adrian Vroom (aka Aquaman) having a go at it.


A fluid nemesis getting vert – I think those are Brian Joubert’s hands!


Brian enjoying his lunch. If nothing else, crocs are great for relaxing on.


Underground Ernie styling it, with the help of some tunes from his iPod!


Brendan Bosman on the wave.


Brendan Bosman… Going for a loop?


We left to drive back to Joburg at around 4, but a lot of kayakers stuck around, probably ‘till after dark, or when the river dropped.


All in all, a good start to the season. Let’s hope for lots of rain and more releases!



Photography by: Luke Longridge and Louise Coney.


Words by: Luke Longridge.


Shot for the article Luke! As well as the photos from you and Louise. Looks like it was a very lekker session... Note that Luke chose all the captions for the photographs too.


Take it easy,

Adrian :-)