Thrombi X-Fest 2008

At last year’s X-Fest we ended up not racing at all and just tripping the section twice on the Saturday and once on the Sunday. This year we had a similar plan and already Luke Longridge, Ernest Vosloo and I had agreed that the three of us would do this as last year’s sessions had been absolutely amazingly fun!

Marius du Preez would also be joining us and we waited for him to join. Once he had, Marius and Ernie ran the shuttle while Luke and I watched the change over at the event grounds from the multi-sport event. This could be done as a team thing, or as a solo pursuit where someone would have to paddle up to the waterfall (above the waterfall this year because of the level), then run up the murderous hill with ones kayak where a change over in a team mate would have them running back to the camp grounds. From here someone else could then do the mountain bike leg or of course you could do each discipline yourself! Quite a taxing race if one decides to hook it alone. I believe Shaun Biggs won the event with him tackling it on his own, a remarkable achievement. Nice one.


The entry rapid to Tonsils. The Giant Cabin of the Umzimkulu River Lodge can be seen at the top. What an awesome place to stay. We stayed there at the end of last year when we ran the full length of the gorge. What a pleasure!


Tonsils. Far left is the entry rapid to Slot Machine.


The entry rapid to Slot Machine. Tonsils can be seen at the top right side of the photo.


Slot Machine as viewed from the top. Doesn't look like much from this angle, on this size picture. A fun rapid to run though and one where there is always a lot of carnage!


The bottom hole of Slot Machine can be a bad place to be at this level. Ask old Mr Raw.    :-) Luckily the level had dropped slightly the following day.


Racing down the gorge didn’t seem like a good idea for my shoulder at any rate. After the Sabie X-Fest was over I was in a lot of pain for the coming days and knew that this would be a killer. I actually had my last paddle on 29 March 2008, ending it with a solid 3.5 hour surf session with my awesome Fluid Element. The boat itself is really mind blowing on a wave and I think once someone tries it, they will never go back to surfing their play boat again. One guy tried mine and I don’t think he’ll ever be the same... hahaha. After the Blyde X-Fest was done my uninjured left shoulder was very painful too. I guess the left was over compensating for the screwed right shoulder. Everyone was saying rest, rest, rest, but I found it so hard to stop paddling with all the good water we had. I had injured it in June 2007 and not really rested it properly once. Now at last, I’m seeing the light and am resting properly before the winter creeking season starts here in the Cape. If you didn’t know, I’ve moved to Cape Town now! Winter also brings with it some large swell so I’ve got to put humpty dumpty back together again ASAP. Hopefully the rest, the ibuprofen, the mild exercises and the TransAct patches help. I am seeing an orthopedic surgeon next week Tuesday! (22 April)... Right, back to the X-Fest.


Well known paddler Deon Bruss (well known in K1 circles as an exceptionally talented paddler) throwing some freestyle moves in Slot Machine for the camera. How thoughtful? (This was the same level that we paddled it at and was taken early that morning by yours truly... Still an excellent level.)


The four of us set off and paddled down the first drop, Tonsils. Or as the Pennefather’s call it, Sweet William. The level had dropped from the day before but it was still reasonably high. Higher than I had ever paddled the gorge and I was definitely pretty nervous for what lay ahead. The next rapid leads into Slot Machine which is probably the hardest rapid on the stretch, apart from maybe the cheese grater rapid above the falls. I think that drop should be called Cheese Grater. I’ve asked around and no one knows if it has a name. Maybe it does, I don’t know.


A small and a large Fluid Solo ready for their daily bread.


Slot Machine was looking juicing and early that morning I had seen Shane Raw and a mate of his run it. Shane’s mate had got flipped over in a spectacular fashion but wasn’t worked in the hole at the end. The day before Shane had been creamed in the bottom hole and had broken his paddle. Looking at the hole I wasn’t keen on the idea of surfing that for too long. Let me first try to explain the drop a little. After the little entry rapid there is a diagonal ledge that has quite a rocky lip but at these levels was nicely covered. Far right has a tongue going down and that makes for another option. Just to the left of this tongue is a rock higher than any other on the lip and our intended line was just left of this, then straight into a diagonal that feeds down and right, into the bottom hole. One can either brace gently into the diagonal and ride it down, watching your upstream (right) edge, or you could punch it and boof the meatiest part of the hole. The majority of the water exits down to the right via the diagonal route and this is also the weakest part of the hole. We decided we’d be riding the diagonal and I volunteered to go first with Luke manning my camera and Ernie operating my video camera.


I walked back to my boat and felt pretty nervous, unnecessarily nervous actually. It’s quite weird but I had pins and needles in my hands and arms. It’s happened a couple of times to me now before running a rapid, but only recently, and I wonder what it is. I’m sure it’s nothing. (I hope). Maybe the shoulders were trying to shut down my arms because they know what’s coming! In the video you can see me splashing water on my face and on the unedited version I am also looking at my hands. I paddled the first part quite well and then hit the diagonal and probably braced a touch too hard into it. I lost speed and should have drawn my left brace into a stroke at the end to clear the hole. The hole grabbed me sideways but isn’t too retentive where I went and I quickly got clear and finished off.


Adrian entering Slot Machine. Photo by Luke Longridge.


Adrian Tregoning running Slot Machine. Photos by Luke Longridge.


The entry rapid to Slot Machine which starts on the right of this picture.


The 'blue line' is the line we chose. The orange is another option and works out quite well too. Perhaps more risk for people who are not that confident. The blue line is fun though!


With that done, it was Luke’s turn. It would be his first big rapid in my small, lively little Solo and I wondered how he’d do. Luke dropped in, threw a hurried stroke on the right at the top of Slot Machine and mostly styled it. He went a little under in the hole at the bottom but didn’t follow my antics. Marius and Ernie decided to portage around rather and we paddled down two more small rapids to the next major rapid.


Luke about to paddle into the entry rapid to Slot Machine.


Luke Longridge running Slot Machine.


Next up was Super Tube which is a fun rapid to run. There are three roughly two foot drops before the crux of the rapid. The entry drops are usually very bony and ugly but with this much water it was much easier. In fact, I found every rapid easier, except maybe for Slot Machine which had more guts than what it usually does. The crux of Super Tube is where the water flows down a small drop and breaks ninety degrees left at it hits against an angled rock wall. The hole is not too bad at all although there is a bit of a pressure area with some boils against the wall. Run too far left against a protruding rock and one can get caught out by the eddy formed behind the rock. I’ve personally witnessed people getting messed up in that eddy and also on some old video footage. At lower levels this rapid is more challenging to run, I think. The drop at the crux is higher and there is even a pinning potential at low levels should one not throw in a decent boof. At medium to medium low levels the water seems wilder at the bottom.


Luke opted to run first so up he went while the rest of us waited. His line was a little more left than where I planned to run which had him land in a fold and this was a tricky place to be. He managed fine though and then it was my turn. Unfortunately Ernie was too slow with the video camera and missed his run, pity. Mine was actually the only one captured as once I went down, Luke operated the still camera and Ernie and Marius went up to run the rapid. Marius ran next and had a lekker run. No problems for him. Then Ernie came down and in true Under Ground Ernie style he had his hands nice and high and got flipped over in an instant at the crux. Ernie, I’m going to duct tape your elbows to your side’s one of these days!


Luke Longridge on Super Tube, choosing a line closer to the rock and riding down the fold.


Adrian Tregoning running Super Tube with a more central line. Photos by Luke Longridge.


Marius du Preez entering the crux at Super Tube. Photo by Luke Longridge.


Ernie Vosloo running close to the rock at Super Tube and paying the price. Got to watch that little eddy there, and watch those elbows Ern...  :-)   Photos by Luke Longridge.


There is one more rapid which we run on the right and then it is Boof-O-Matic or Ski Jump, depending on your point of view. I won’t get into that, again. This time Marius opted to run first and he missed his intended line, getting a little stuck on some shallow rocks on the entry but still managed perfectly. Ernie had a perfect line but Ernie those arms man... My run was perfect too but for some reason I put in so many small strokes on the lead in, looks funny on the video. I also put in a quick yawn which is also on the video. Seeing as though I was playing silly buggers, Luke decided that on this run he’d boof the drop and get a good look at the camera. I was trying to convince him to freewheel it but he didn’t. Looking back, he wished he had. Next time Luke! His run was very sweet too, everyone was paddling really nicely.


Ernie Vosloo running Boof-O-Matic. At lower levels there is a rock right next to where Ernie is landing. If you don't have an automatic boof, you land automaticaly on the rock! Ernie, we have a Dangerous Dave, and a Big Dave and we even have an Aqua Man, do we really need an Elbow Ernie?


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


Luke Longridge posing for the camera and having fun.


From here on are a few run rapids to run and then the highlight, well, for me anyway. Ski Jump, or Boof-O-Matic, depending, again. For the benefit of Marius we decided to try and scout this one but unless one actually makes a huge mission, having to portage a kayak around and then ferry to the river left side, scouting is not possible. We always just run it blind. Hopefully there’ll never be a nasty log in the landing. Luke kindly offered to run it first with the still camera while we videoed his run. He looked good and then Marius ran down. His line was also super, getting in the customary boof off the slanted rock. At these high levels it was really easy to fly off the rock and usually a solid left stroke is required to get up it and resist the waters idea of pulling the nose of your kayak down and left. My run was super duper and really made my day. I just love that drop, probably my favourite rapid in South Africa. Ernie missed the boof but followed the water down and left and still managed a reasonably good run.


Luke Longridge finishing off Ski Jump.


Marius du Preez with a lekker run of Ski Jump. Photos by Luke Longridge.


Adrian Tregoning running the most satisfying line on Ski Jump. What awesome fun it is! Photos by Luke Longridge.


This rapid is the last big drop and from here on the rapids are less steep and much longer, with the exception of the drop immediately below which we run far right. There could be another one too. When I’m on the river, I know what’s coming and then my memory is super sharp. So far, every rapid had been easier, except for Slot Machine. I wondered what the next set of rapids would be like.


The continuous runs below were pure heaven and while Luke and Marius ran ahead, I stayed behind Ernie to make sure he kept his elbows down. He was paddling well and we didn’t have any problems. The rapids were really awesome and sometimes required some quick thinking as the action comes thick and fast. I really enjoy that type of paddling. As long as one keeps upright, life is good. Being upside down in that shallow sort of stuff would be pure hell.


Somewhere near the bottom of the Golf Course Section.


Adrian Tregoning running some random rapid. Photos by Luke Longridge.


Marius du Preez running the same rapid.


After the Golf Course sections we managed to photograph and video one more rapid and then paddled down a few more. The natural weir was juicing and we decided to have a look at some possibilities. Luke ran first on the far right with a sweet boof. Marius decided to take the less risky line far left and styled it. I followed Luke’s line while Ernie tried a new angle for photography. He totally missed me so I went up and ran it again. This time he got me and the result is quite interesting. Shot Ernie! I climbed out again and took some shots of Ernie. His line was perfect and his form perfect too. No more high arms on this one. His run was as I like to describe it, shanana.


Luke Longridge spoting his landing already on this sweet boof on the natural weir. Running in the centre and just plugging in will result in a severe beating! Be warned. If you are not sure, portage.


Adrian Tregoning boofing the natural weir. Photos by Ernie Vosloo. Ernie was trying a different camera angle here. Seems to have worked now on the second attempt we did it. Shot Ernie!    :-)


There is one more very small rapid and then the Cheese Grater rapid about a hundred meters upstream of Thrombosis Falls itself. We climbed out on the left and walked down. The organisers had said that no one should run the waterfall during the event. Not that it would have stopped us. Originally Marius and Ernie had wanted to walk out above the natural weir as the walk out from there isn’t too bad. Marius said we’d go down if I agreed not to run the waterfall. Hehehe, Luke and I agreed we’d give it a miss that day. When we got there it was looking ok but the pocket on the right hand side at the base wasn’t looking like a good time. Somehow we were both quite content with not running it, although we probably should have. I’d seen photos of it being run much higher that this and also video footage of it being run in flood. No doubt that the right hand side can be an evil place, just ask Adrian Vroom. With that we took a few photos and also a cool group photo. It was quite funny because as we were posing with the ‘dragon’ look that Ernie always instigates, we almost fell backwards. In the photo, my leg is already on the way down and the helmet I’m holding is slightly blurred. Falling there would be bad news as we were standing just above the lip of the waterfall...


Another article, another locust photo of mine. This one was right next to Thrombosis Falls. Awesome little bugger!


Thrombosis Falls.


Another view of the falls. When taking of your mates here watch out for the shadow that catches the curtain of the can ruin your photo if you're not careful. The Cheese Grater can be seen upstream.


At Ernie's request, another 'dragon' photo. From left: Ernie Vosloo, Luke Longridge, Adrian Tregoning and Marius du Preez. Some of us almost fell backwards as the photo was taken, hence my right leg is almost back on mother earth.. hehehe.


The Cheese Grater rapid above the falls.


We walked back to our boats, I checked out the Cheese Grater again and then we started the long and painful walk up. The first hill is a real killer and once at the top of that one I took a bit of a rest. The other three were taking a direct route and Luke was charging straight up along the steepest part. I decided to follow the path on the left and it wasn’t too bad. It’s a longer route but the ascent is not as steep, and slow and steady, I made it out. Once I made the summit the others were there already but had not beaten me by as much time as I had thought. Luke said he almost died when he first started going up as he went way too fast. That hill is always a killer, and so ended another excellent day on the Umzimkulu River.


Adrian on the way up to the car, taking a break in the shade. Self portrait.


Slot Machine can be seen on the far right. Some kayakers making their way back from one of the heats.


Back at the Umzimkulu River Lodge and our awesome accomodation! What a lovely sight.


The Pied Cottage (9 sleeper) at the Umzimkulu River Lodge. What a great spot. To visit their site, click HERE.


Once back at the lodge we bid Dr Marius farewell as he had to be on night shift at the hospital. Ouch! Luke, Ernie and I hooked up with Celliers and Inke who were at the house, cooking up something to eat. We weren’t too organised and had decided to take the lazy route and just eat something at the event grounds. Dave gave us a lift across but not before a few staunch double/triple Captain Morgan’s to start the evening! It was going to be a good one, no doubt. After some food and chilling a bit the evening started getting rowdy. The SAB (South African Breweries) benches were converted to kayak launch ramps and somebody’s poor Fluid Solo was to be tested to the limits with some indoor, extreme kayaking. It started off with a table standing normally, then another table in line with it but with one pair of legs folded in to allow it to slope to the ground. Then the route was across two tables flat on the ground, and then finally up and then level where the test pilot would be plonked straight onto the ground with about a two foot drop. About 4 people would push the kayak, and a test dummy along the path of tables. It worked well and entertained the crowds, but it was too boring so I grabbed another table and put it on top of the last table to raise the stakes and increase the height. From there on, things went a bit pear shaped. We built a table top jump and eventually moved the benches apart so that the kayaker could fly between the two sloped tables. This was a real crowd pleaser. Eventually myself and some random mountain biker decided we’d put the benches even further apart and push up when the kayak came screaming overhead so that they’d clear the tables. Sometimes it worked, sometimes the kayaker would come short. That too became boring and eventually petrol or something similar was used to light up a bench were the ‘kayaker’ would heroically fly through. The guy in charge of the bench was asked if we could light up one of his benches and he eagerly responded positively! What an awesome sponsor...   ;) 


I still remember having a massive chat with Adrian Vroom, we were some of the last people there and the music and long stopped. They cut the generator and I hesitated with what I was saying and then just carried on chatting. We were the last to leave. One last pit stop with some friends and then I finally went to bed just after 05:00. Good party, good times!


The following morning the hangover was a bit extreme. I could have drunk a bit more but I had definitely hit many, many rums and was now feeling my body punishing me. It was decided that we wouldn’t paddle as Luke was doing the mountain bike race and I was feeling too rough for any more paddling. My shoulder was aching a little too and things could have been better. To top it off, I had to have a meeting with Celliers about the new seat I was designing for Fluid but after a few litres of water and some food I was feeling better already. It went down quite easily and more progress was made.


Ernie Vosloo waiting for the action to begin down Slot Machine...


Shaun Biggs (far right), Graeme Anderson (red boat to the left of Shaun) and Ross O'Donoghue (orange boat on the far left) leading the race into Slot Machine.


The 3 leaders of the 8 people in the final race. Final placings where as follows: Graeme Anderson in first position (red boat), Shaun Biggs in second (yellow boat) and Ross O'Donoghue taking third (in orange boat). NOTE: The race does not end here and carries on to below Super Tube.


More action further down the field between Shane Raw (yellow boat) and Philip Claassens (red boat).


A fitting photo as the competitors sprint their way down to the final rapids further downstream. Good show gents!


The final race was also great to watch and some of the country’s finest athletes powered their way down. We watched the action at Slot Machine but unfortunately it was over all too quickly. A good show none the less and we all enjoyed it! Well done to those that even qualified for the final. A big thanks to all the sponsors and also the organisers who made it all happen. There is so much going on at the X-Fest and something for everyone to enjoy. I’m sure this event will only get bigger and better. A good time was had by all.



Not actually any of the racing footage but just a few rapids shown from the short section of Thrombosis Gorge, on the Umzimkulu River. Paddlers include Adrian Tregoning (green boat, orange dry top, blue helmet), Luke Longridge (green boat, blue dry top, black helmet), Ernie Vosloo (red boat) and Marius du Preez (yellow boat). The level would be considered high. Music is by the Finnish metal band Turisas and the song is called 'To Holmgard and Beyond.'


With that the event was over and we were faced with the long and painful drive back home. With the three of us in the car, things were unusually quiet. From about Pietermaritzburg I drifted in and out of consciousness until we were about an hour and a half from home. Dave drove on like a machine and there were no problems. Thanks for driving Dave and for a truly memorable few days of paddling guys. It was lekker!




Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated. It was incredibly difficult to choose the photos for this article. I edited 140 photos but then realised that it was way too many and had to filter some out! What a shame. Some really good sequences sit on my computer right now but I hope you enjoyed the ones I’ve shared with you.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Upper Olifants – an overnight trip with some good water, for a change. A couple of super photos in there of a little known section.