Sabie X-Fest 2008 – Lots of Water, Lots of Carnage

From what I had heard, the Sabie X-Fest hadn’t been on the calendar for quite some time. Certainly not since I had started paddling in 2004 there had never been one but I had heard some great carnage stories and tales of wild parties. It sounded like a full on weekend so we took to the road with a car full of full on people!


  Hosted by Induna Adventures!

We managed to leave reasonably early and I think we got on the road around 14:00, which was a miracle. Crammed into the car was Adrian Vroom (Aqua Man), Philip Claassens, Nick Cooper and Cheri Collett up front. The drive down was interesting and every single little stream was pumping. The Highveld region had received a large amount of rain and any flat lying area next to the road was under water and rivers that are usually possible to walk across like the upper Wilge and Klein Olifants were pumping! It was funny to see some waves on the latter.


At Sabie I gooied in some juice into the thirsty bakkie of mine and grabbed something to eat. Scott and Oudts had told me that food wasn’t available the first night, so a steak and kidney pie went down the hatch...


There was a small crowd gathered in the darkness beyond where our car was parked and a few stragglers under the main tent. We set up our tents and headed to the main tent where a larger crowd had now assembled. The usual old faces were on hand as well as a couple of new ones. There was only one thing left to do, grab a beer. So we did exactly that. We watched the kayak film festival which was pretty interesting with some really good videos being entered that made my video look like a child had made it, which it almost was. A light rain began to fall and eventually there were only a few people left under the tent. We were waiting for our friend, Brendan Bosman, who was driving down alone and seemed to be driving straight at the pot holes, again! Brendan was stuck in Belfast with a second burst tyre from hitting some bad spots and was a little screwed. Eventually he made a plan and arrived shortly after midnight to the camp. What a night for him, complete with a buckled rim. Shame..


At 03:00 that morning I was on the toilet. Oh no! Must have been that bloody pie that I had eaten at Sabie I thought as I sat in the darkness and contemplated a few things. I’ve got a pretty sensitive stomach although pies are usually good to go. At 06:30 I was back again and not enjoying life too much.


We gathered our gear onto a largish truck and climbed on ourselves. Just then it started to rain. On the uphill’s I was waiting for a Tour de France cyclist to come tearing past us. Perhaps the ghost of climbing specialist, Marco Pantani? But nothing happened. I was glad to be wearing my long sleeved dry top and looked around at some pretty miserable and cold faces. Once in the Sappi forests we had some fun and games with the truck, pushing it through the mud more than once. Eventually we got to where we had to walk down. I left the camera in the car as the rain didn’t look like it was going to clear. Luckily for me Jaco Lubbe took some super photos of the trip and the rain did eventually stop.


The drop off point where we walked down and also left the truck down this road as it couldn't get out on the slippery roads...   :-)  I wonder what Sappi thinks considering we don't even have permission to use their roads. Oops.


First race was at the put in. Not the usual put in for the U2 but further down to avoid some smaller rapids and long pools. The level looked good. I asked Jaco what he thought the level was like and he said he would consider it high. Not very high but definitely not a medium level. Things were looking good.


First rapid was a short slide where the right line looked to be reasonably simple with a small but potentially unfriendly hole on river left, should the line be fluffed. We watched a few guys go down and then eventually it was me to go. I had a heat with some strong and very probably dirty paddlers with the likes of Adrian Vroom, Philip Claassens and Nick Cooper. Oh well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. No doubt about it, the start was absolutely critical. We assembled roughly at the top in the pool and while Philip was still about three metres in front of everyone else the whistle was blown and he charged off, with zero hope of coming past him. Philip is a very good paddler and the chances of him making a mistake on a simple rapid like that was slim. Still, I gave it my all and tried hard. Below the rapid the river turns left and down another far smaller rapid and then quite a bit of flat water. I hadn’t realised how much flat water there was and I felt like dying sprinting all that way! In the end, it was Philip first, me second, Vroom (Aqua Man) third and Nick fourth. I believe Philip had the fastest time on this race! Nice one. We waited for the rest of the heats to finish and watched as some pretty tired people crossed the finish line. With that done, it was time to trip down the river to the next race, Hot Gates.


First rapid, first race. Philip Claassens in the lead (right), followed by Adrian Tregoning (green boat), Adrian Vroom behind him and Nick Cooper running into difficulties early on.


Between the races we had some fun running the other rapids and there was a lot of action. I cringed to see some of the runs but the guys at Induna Adventures were doing a great job of showing people the lines and setting safety. I must commend them and don’t think they could have done a better job. That said, there were some people on the river that shouldn’t have been on there that day but in true South African style they bombed down fearlessly and even some swims didn’t seem to stop the rhythm of our mixed and varied party.

We arrived at the pool above Hot Gates and peered down. I knew the rapid from a low level but had never paddled this section at any other time other than winter, which is super low. The view from our boats was not very good but the line reasonably easy. Start right, move left and stay left, keeping an eye out for the unavoidable hole at the bottom which has potential for a short beating. It’s a juicing rapid for sure and a really good choice for an extreme race. Without scouting, the races started with people racing in pairs, as opposed to the first race.


Daniel Barnard decided to challenge me so I guess that was the way it was going to be. We started off strong with Daniel right next to me and then I got ahead of him in the rapid. There were about two holes which were worthy of mention but I punched those. The previous night we had been warned of the hole at the bottom and Scott told me to punch it on the right. I messed up in the eddy above the point where it begins to drop into the hole and had lost vital seconds getting into the current again. I shot down the left wall, knocking my shoulder against the rocks and punched the hole. From there I sprinted to the end and made it nicely. Looking back, had I punched the hole on the right, I would have exited the hole not in the main flow of the current which would have lost valuable time. I ended up having the fastest time on this rapid which was quite surprising. We witnessed some classic carnage and there were a few swims that come to mind now. Good stuff for spectators!


Scott Reinders running Hot Gates.


Adrian Tregoning (front and about to be eddied out) with Daniel Barnard taking the rear.


Adrian about to drop into the final hole that is the Hot Gate itself.


Yup, Aqua Man (Adrian Vroom) getting it wrong! Looking for fish Adrian? This evil photo even has the number 666 to it. (Right click and check properties)


Brendan Bosman demonstrating how to finish the rapid.


Kobus (pink boat) and Donovan (yellow/red boat) not having a good time at the end.


Ruan Fourie leaving his mate, Gideo Basson, far upstream.


Gideo Basson coming down... Creek boat Gideo, creek boat...  :-) Play boats are for playing.


Dave Joyce running a short slide type drop on the way down to the next race.


From here we paddled some more smallish rapids, as well as two short slide drops until we reached the Big Slide and the infamous Double Drop. They really should call it something other than Big Slide. The quickest (and safest) way down the Big Slide is on the far left. There are other options to run the slide but just remember that a large rock hides in the hole on the far right. At the moment there is also a tree branch on the right, about halfway down. There is a short pool and then Double Drop. Scott and Oudts had kindly removed the logs at the top of this rapid and I’ve included a photo of Scott running it with the log still there, before the race. I think he hit it head on it that run...


Scott Reinders running Double Drop before the race and before they removed the log (just behind him). Note the Big Slide behind him too. Great place for some carnage.


A couple of us, myself included, decided to scout this one. I had run this section twice, Double Drop included, but only at very low levels. My second run of Double Drop resulted in me going over the second drop, upside down! This resulted in several massive hits to my head, a slightly cut hand, a broken paddle and a swim. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about running it. On low levels it has a nasty way of grabbing your right edge in between the drops. At this level, it is much easier to run as the entry is wide, the only thing is, is that the hole at the bottom of the second drop can beat the living daylights out of you. We were warned about it and I resolved to run it nicely on the left. My already upset stomach churned even more at the thought of getting thrashed at the bottom.


The Big Slide, as they call it.


Woo hoo!


Philip Claassens right on line for Double Drop.


Ruan Fourie hoping for the best. I didn't help...   :-)


Some carnage.


How's that for a downriver move?!?!?! Air screw over the lip of a drop. Not bad hey?


We observed several runs of the Big Slide which were uneventful, except for one guy that missed the easy line on the entry and was swept down the right line! He luckily missed the log and the rock at the bottom and paddled like crap to still run Double Drop nicely. Well done! The race down was against the clock and this was a very wise decision.


Scott Reinders on Double Drop.


My run down the slide was uneventful, I knew the final stroke where it reached the pool was critical for a good time and I had watched Philip do it perfectly. I matched his line and quickly paddled up to the entry. My line was not as left as I could have been and was swept slightly right. My boof stroke was poor on the second drop but I landed away from the main hole but slightly sideways. It then pulled me in, ignoring my hard strokes on the right! Damn it! The hole wasn’t too bad to side surf and I held on for a few seconds when suddenly the bow was facing the curtain. I threw my head forward to sink the bow and the boat jacked viscously into a rough loop but I knew I couldn’t finish the loop so I went for a speedy roll. The trick had worked and I was clear of the backwash. Ah, what a great feeling. I paddled hard to the finish line knowing that I had easily lost around fifteen seconds. Oh well, at least I hadn’t swum.


Adrian Tregoning at the bottom of the Big Slide.


Adrian getting a little stuck at the bottom before moving on.


I think about half, if not more than half of the people running Double Drop, swam. The carnage came thick and fast. Luckily there is a nice pool at the bottom and getting all the gear together wasn’t too much of a hassle. After the adrenalin had subsided my stomach was trying to tell me something but I wasn’t interesting in listening. We continued down and paddled some quality rapids. There are lots more worthy of mention and I guess if you haven’t been down the Sabie then you better get your act together and hit it when there is lots of water. It offers some superb creeking.


Brendan Bosman with a dodgy line but one which got him through with any experiences at the bottom!


Daniel Barnard with the luckiest (and also the fastest) run down the rapids! I don't think his head even went underwater...


Deon busting his paddle!!!! Eish!


Eventually we got to Siphon Falls and I was feeling really sick and not motivated to paddle anymore. Brendan and I went to have a look at it and it didn’t look too bad. The entry is over a large rock that has fallen into a crack with about 98% of the water flowing underneath it! Hence the name, Siphon Falls. There is a very powerful recirculating eddy on the right that feeds back into the hole formed at the base. Although the hole wasn’t too bad. Once at the bottom, escape would be difficult and rescue hard because it is so high above the drop. I knew I had lost major time at Double Drop and was out of contention so I decided to portage and get to the end. Just then it started raining pretty hard and because keeping time would now be impossible, they called the fourth race off. I think most people were happy with that decision as it had been a long day already. Too much laughter and excitement.


Those brave enough ran Hugh Twice rapid. Scott Reinders showing us how.


Philip Claassens getting Hugh Twice rapid wrong. Luckily Jaco was at hand to rescue him. Yep, that's a dodgy rock seive/siphon on the left there. Reason for the rapids name - Hugh du Preez swam twice here. Not a pleasant place to end up here on the right...


Another look at Hugh Twice rapid. Serious stuff. Note the two rocks at the bottom which are a real concern.


Adrian Tregoning finishing off Tanamera rapid.


Deon charging hard with a split paddle. Looks like Dave's paddle...


Gideo Basson on the first rapid on the U1 section. Too bad the idiots at Tima Moon won't allow us access to 'their' bridge.


Jeff's Rapid. Think that was Scott Reinders.


Brendan, Nick and I were helping each other down the slippery rocks and making our way around when some of the other guys paddled Siphon Falls. We weren’t aware of this when suddenly Dave Joyce was getting beaten at the bottom. There were a few guys at the top of the rock that we could see and I thought that they’d easily get him. Apparently some other guys had also run the drop but no were nowhere to be seen. Brendan and I hung around in the pool below but we couldn’t see anything. We were expecting Dave to join us shortly. After a few minutes we heard a desperate scream! We jumped out of our boats and headed up the river left bank with throw bags through the thick, thorn infested bush. No one else was on the left bank and we would be able to help far better from that side. By the time we got up, Dave was out of the dodgy spot that he had been in. Dave didn’t scout the drop and he had never run it before. He shouldn’t have run it.


We paddled the last big rapid which has the odd siphon in it and some nasty logs and that was that. It was good to be back at the car and off the river. My stomach was plotting a powerful revenge for me. It had put a dampener on my day for sure. No doubt that I couldn’t have paddled any faster than what I did. When I was racing, I gave it 100%. But otherwise it was agony. My stupid shoulder was aching by then and I wished that we didn’t have that much water this season which made missing a trip a crime!


A view into the ugly rapid below Siphon Falls. Photo by Cheri Collett.


Scotty's car ready to rock! Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


First place for the film festival was to Scott Martin with his very impressive Nile video and second place to Scott Reinders, also with a sweet one.


As for the racing: Philip Claassens came in at first place. I came in second (I couldn’t believe it) and Scott Reinders in third. There were LOTS of great prizes and also a Fluid Solo (small) as a lucky draw and this was won by Kobus Oosthuizen! There were more lucky draws at the end and some more prizes. A huge thanks to all the sponsors of the event.


Kobus (left) and Oudts (right). Kobus getting really LUCKY and winning this boat on a lucky draw!!!


That night I took it easy and hardly even drank any beer while the others hit it reasonably hard with some funnels and what not.  I hit the sack early.


The next morning the others decided to hit the U1 section. I decided to go up to Lone Creek Falls with Cheri and spend some time with her, which was nice. My shoulder was not feeling very healthy and neither was my stomach. In fact, once I got home I was man down Monday and Tuesday and only recovered on the Thursday. Watch out for those pies!!!


Lone Creek Falls. Any takers? Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


A small spider with the waterfall as his view. Nice... Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


Oh yes please. I could see Dave's jaw bone if I looked from lower. Small mistake on the U1 which almost knocked him out and resulted in about 7 stitches. Ouch! Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


The road out from the camp site. Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


Gideo (foreground) and Ruan (background) on their way back! Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


Packed and ready to go home. Photo by Adrian Tregoning.


A super event and one which I will be attending again! The guys at Induna Adventures did a superb job organising the event and running safety on it. The festival was held on the last week of January so keep your eyes peeled for next year’s event. All major events will be posted on the front page of my site so keep visiting!



Photography by: Jaco Lubbe, unless otherwise stated. A big thanks to Jaco for sending me the photos in the post and allowing me to use them. If anyone would like to have a copy of the photos they are available on a sizeable DVD for only R100. Please contact Jaco on: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

(I wish I could have put photos of everyone up but I could not. So sorry if I didn't include you! There were just too many and I only took the best photos)


Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Steelpoort, low level. Some sweet photos with a short story line. Time is getting the better of me and I’ve got a LOADS more articles to come.


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