Blyde X-Fest 2008

The following morning we got up and gathered our gear for the day ahead. Some people struggled to shake off the effects of the previous nights’ booze but eventually everyone clambered onto the truck that would take us on the long but beautiful drive to the put in. The format of the event was simple and the same as the year before. We would paddle down the roughly 8 km section of river and have three races down three different rapids. There is no other option as one cannot access the gorge in any way, other than a helicopter. We hadn’t gone very far when a large stone lodged itself between the twin set of wheels at the back of the truck. After a bit of a struggle it was freed and on we went. The drive up was very slow in the truck but the scenery really great. If you haven’t been to this part of South Africa before then you’re really missing out. I won’t go into the whole deal about the Blyde Canyon and it being the third largest canyon in the world and what not. If you’re interested then check out my trip report from the 2007 Blyde X-Fest for more information or just Google it.

Once down at the river it was a relief to be in the still, morning air. The brown waters were the only disappointment as the usually crystal clear water is a real bonus and something of a rarity when it comes to paddling in South Africa. Because of a plantation being cut upstream, the waters have turned brown and they reckon it will take about another two years to clear up. For now, we’ll have to paddle this brown river and get used to taking water bottles along while doing so.


The put in for the Upper Blyde section.


There was a large group of paddlers on the river that day and we knew that time would be critical. We couldn’t idle around and take our time. Once on the water, we set off at a fast pace and that was that. I paddled out ahead with a few guys and we just bombed down everything without really stopping. The line of boats and crocs (two man inflatable rafts) must have been quite long with so many people coming down. When we got to Log Waterfall we were told that everyone would have to portage. There is a bad siphon on this rapid which has almost claimed the lives of two paddlers but the actual rapid is very easy to run. I think the decision was a good one as it would have taken a long time to run and then you always get people paddling stuff way above their limits and a mistake on a rapid like this can be fatal. Of course some people never listen and Mr Raw ran the rapid when he thought no one was looking... Eventually we slowed down a little and then were halted when Lelani Boshoff got pinned in a tricky little boulder garden type drop. Her head was above water and eventually they managed to get her out without any trouble. It was then that we learned of some swims upstream and waited for the other paddlers to join us.


The portage around Log Waterfall.


Lelani Boshoff running Alleys Staircase in her pink Fluid Nemesis.


The lower half of Alleys Staircase.


Just downstream was Alleys Staircase, the rapid where we’d have our first race. I grabbed some more Nurofens from my Pelican case and stuffed them into my mouth. My shoulder was hurting quite a lot from the Mutale trip which Luke and I had run the two days prior to this paddle. I had taken several when I had woken up already and hoped that they’d do the job. When registering, contestants are given a number and so if you and your mate register at the same time, you naturally get your numbers next to each other. Much to my dismay, they once again just took consecutive numbers, so numbers 1 and 2 would race against each other, numbers 7 and 8 would as well and I think you get the picture. I would be up against Luke Longridge. Last year I had also raced against him on this rapid and had blown him away. Simply because I was in a creek boat and he was in a play boat! So there was no doubt that he would want to redeem himself.


Gerhard Willemse getting through with a hand brace.


Gerhard still up front and he ended up winning his heat.......due to some bad luck from the other paddler.


But Gerhard didn't paddle to the rock at the top of the screen and came back to help the other dude, so not actually finishing. (Sorry, your name now eludes me!!) Good show though!


There were all types enjoying the show!  :-)


Neil O'Leary (yellow helmet) and Chris Barichievy (silver helmet) battling it out. Chris snapped his paddle blade though, so didn't stand a chance. Look carefully at the middle photo at Chris in the background looking at his paddle blade.


Brendan Bosman (red helmet) and Adrian 'Aquaman' Vroom (black helmet) with a close race.


Adrian Tregoning (green helmet/boat) and Luke Longridge (orange helmet/boat) with Luke taking the race, this time round! Next time Luke...


Same race. Photos by Linda Boshoff.


After a couple of races it was my turn. After much scuffling around I managed to get the starting position closest to the main current from the eddy in which we were positioned. Luke knew that all too well and when the signal was given we sprinted away. I took the lead but he would not give up and just before entering the first little drop he got his boat to nudge the tail of my boat to the right. I struggled to correct my angle and he powered up next to me. We jostled for position and engaged in some battle tactics. I got my paddle on his chest and then he locked it in and I couldn’t get it out. Check it out on the video at the end of this article. Eventually I got free and Luke almost flipped over but corrected very quickly. He went into the main part of the rapid slightly ahead of me but I was on his tail. I lost a lot of speed going through a small hole about halfway through with a stupid brace and then Luke just left me behind as a result of me error. I still paddled as hard as I could and started catching him but could not. He had snaked me at the top and in the end, we both lost a lot of time, ruining our chance at a good position in the competition from the very start. We would not give up though and there were two more races where we could try to get better times, as the person with the least amount of time over the three races would win.


It was a good way to start the day and everyone was having a really good time. The only downside was that we were pushed for time and couldn’t really idle around. I prefer to take my time running down a river, absorbing the scenery, taking lots of photos and just maximising my time out there. Ah, I wish I could paddle right now even!


The next race was Mark’s Drop. This would be a time trail only and competitors would race against the clock. Mainly due to the fact that the natural weir just below the drop is very dangerous so having to possibly rescue two people in there at once could prove hazardous. There was a twist on this race though. There are two different lines to choose from on this rapid. River left is a sloping drop and this is really known as Mark’s Drop, because some guy called Mark took a beating here they tell me. River right is a small waterfall of around two and a half metres and this is known as the Terminator. Should someone run that drop, they would have 5 seconds taken from their time. That is naturally good news. The bad news is, is that you are then further from the main current so it’s a win win situation. So your choice is quite important. I thought that I would probably have a faster run with the left line as the lip and entry to the vertical drop on the right was very shallow, possibly slowing one down a lot.


The group checking out Mark's Drop.


Mark's Drop on river left and the Terminator on river right.


Adrian Tregoning running Mark's Drop and also the natural weir below. The middle photo is by Linda Boshoff, the others were taken by my camera - can't remember who took them, but thanks.


Ernie Vosloo powering through the flats to make a good time.


Marius Gerryts on Mark's Drop.


Celliers Kruger boofing the shallow lip of the Terminator during his race.


The scene standing at Terminator, looking downstream.


The runs were interesting to see with Robin and Ernie getting pulled into the crease of the Terminator inadvertently. Oops! Otherwise it was quite uneventful with no one swimming or getting beaten. My run was the same as last years. Once again, I got slowed down on the shallow little rock island that separates the two drops on this rapid and I lost a lot of time. I can’t believe I made that same mistake two years in a row! Otherwise my run was good and my time quite decent. I think Shane Raw had the fastest time on that rapid and possibly even the first race too. His skill and experience showing, with no one coming close.


Ernest Vosloo going down the Terminator....


Marius Gerryts on Terminator in a boat I once upon a time owned, but never even paddled on a river. I got it from a mate of mine who almost drowned on a high Bushmans, has back problems ever since, and has never kayaked since....  Some friend I am.


Marius du Preez with a lekker run too.


Dave Joyce right on line there.


The very next rapid was just downstream and is known as Gutter 2. This ends in a short pool and then another drop called Curtain Falls. We voted as to whether the race would be held two kayakers at a time, or against the clock. The vote for an individual race won. I was in favour of that as going into the Gutter with someone like Luke Longridge trying to snake you can be highly unpleasant as it’s very shallow, tight and narrow. There was some more action on this race and not everyone had clean lines. My run down felt really bad but doesn’t look too bad in the video. I lost a lot of time bracing and then sprinted hard for the finish. Both of my shoulders were killing me by then and I regretted paddling so hard. In the end, I did really badly too even though I tried as hard as I could, so it was definitely not even worth it. In fact, carrying on with the injury was a very foolish move and I just met someone the other day that said they didn’t want to go to the doctor because of a shoulder issue. I told them my story and they changed their mind quite quickly. Common sense must prevail! My only concern was that I must beat Celliers! And when I checked the times later that evening, I saw that I had just beat him ...  Shew! Hehehehe...


Luke Longridge showing his determination between Gutter 2 and Curtain Falls. Now you see Luke, if you didn't snake me in the first race and hadn't engaged in a little combat, you would have had a better overall time...


Adrian Tregoning finishing at Curtain Falls. Photos by Chris Barichievy.


Neil O'Leary snaking his way through Gutter 2.


Neil O'Leary smoothly paddling his way to a well deserve third place here on Curtain Falls. Gotta love his fluid style.


Second place finisher Noel van Zyl ending in style here on Curtain Falls. (Sorry Shane, you seemed to avoid the camera this time round!!!)


And that concluded the Blyde X-Fest of the year 2008. Final results were as follows:

  1. Shane Raw
  2. Noel van Zyl
  3. Neil O’Leary

Congratulations to the top three finishers!


Celliers Kruger (left - Mr Fluid) and Brendan 'Wingman' Bosman (right) on the awesome ferry trip to the far end of the dam. It was a good day indeed.


The incredible Blyde Dam.


Do you see the weeping face?


Dave Joyce looking more serious than usual...   :-) 


Chris Barichievy (left) and Neil O'Leary (right).


The final view as we got to the end of our ferry trip. One is not allowed to paddle on the dam anymore... There are loads oh crocs and some hippos too.


The view from where we were staying at the event grounds. A truly beautiful place.


The braai area of the camp grounds. The river is only a few metres to my left.


Everyone watching the raw video footage of the days' happenings.


Luke Longridge packing the car again for the return trip home. It rained almost the whole way home.


Montrose Falls on the Crocodile River. Both Luke and I have run them a few times before and we couldn't motivate ourselves to run it this time round. There was a light rain and we had 3 consecutive days of paddling in a row behind us. So we moved on to check out a better waterfall.


Standing at the top of Double Drop on the Elands River.


And closer still. It was intimidating at this level, in these wet conditions. Luke Longridge and Scott Reinders had done a first descent here not that long ago, but at very low levels. The drop at the top of the photo is Dante's Drop.


Double Drop. Luke and I could not motivate ourselves for this either. The level was higher than when he had done the first descent. There were only two of us. It was raining. My shoulder screwed by then - it was already for the last 10 months. So we gave it a miss. Good call I reckon. We will return in good shape, and with a few people to set up for photos and video as the terrain is a bit tricky. Safety with only two people is also a concern when running stuff of this calibre.


Dante's Drop. This 13m drop is about 60m from the Double Drop. If you run this, watch out for the cave behind the curtain. Potentially lethal stuff. Ask Luke and Scott if in doubt and use common sense.


Overall the event was a good one. There were a few other things going too, like a beginners kayak race on the lower Blyde, as well as mountain bike, croc and adventure race. As much as creating these other events will attract more people, and therefore more sponsors, and therefore more exposure. I’m a big fan of keeping an event to paddling only. As I’ve attended the three major kayaking events this year already (Thrombi, Sabie & Blyde) and will also be attending the Gravity Festival in the Cape I can compare them a little. My own opinions will not be enjoyed by all but one thing is for certain, the amount of people that don’t enjoy sharing a kayaking event with all manner of ‘other’ people is ever increasing. Some of my mates have also attended all three events and it seems that the Sabie X-Fest was the best event this year. Perhaps because it was solely a kayaking event. But I say that without taking anything away from the other two events. Every time a bunch of likeminded people get on the water, it’s a good day. And that’s all that counts.


For the video, click HERE.


Video by Lelani Boshoff. Thanks!  :-)




Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated. Thanks to Linda Boshoff for her contributions.

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: Low flow scout of the Dwars River.


You may have noticed that I sometimes add in some information in green at the end of an article. It has nothing to do with the article, just so that you know.


So it has now been 6 weeks since I had the surgery, and the surgery wasn’t that bad at all. I had been worried for nothing, really. Without even a premed, I was wheeled away after being covered in iodine, while wearing a horrible white gown and the most radical ‘underpants’ I’ve ever seen. The anaesthetist knocked me out with gas, at my request; I’m not a fan of drips. It smelt really great and after a few jokes and some heavy breathing, he said I would be gone soon, and that was that. I don’t remember anything beyond that. I half woke up in surgery as they were wheeling me out and then drifted in and out of consciousness in the recovery room. Eventually I was taken to my room where they took my blood pressure about a million times on my ankle and that woke me every now and then for a few seconds before I would drift away again. My mom visited at 15:00 but I could not keep my eyes open for more than a few minutes. There was zero pain and I actually felt good. They finally slowed down with the whole blood pressure vibe and eventually pulled off the little tabs that monitored my heart rate. When I had more visitors that night I could stay awake by then a little more and still felt great. I had the drip in my left hand and also this machine which administered some sort of strong pain killers. It was awesome and I can honestly say that whatever it was, it must be kept far away from me. What a bloody pleasure! I just lay there in complete comfort, I didn’t feel the need to move or to scratch anything and there was no pain. The machine in the bag would activate a valve every 10 minutes or so and more of the potent liquid would be injected into my blood stream. Yes sir, this hospital stuff wasn’t so bad... I could get used to these pain killers!


Good times....  And afterwards. Tiny little scars.


Before the surgery. The highlighted part is the stuff they injected into my shoulder joint. Where there is a dark line is where the labrum was torn. I now have 3 plastic screws and 4 sutures keeping it real.


That night the blood pressure people came again and again and they kept asking me if I was ok. Jeepers, can a man not get a decent nights rest? After a long night, day came. That morning I was taken in a wheel chair to the physiotherapist and had a super long wait in the waiting room. All went well. I got the drip taken out and refused any more pain killers. They were eager to inject me with Voltaren but I was less enthusiastic. I was supposed to stay another night but told them I was 100% so eventually I got to leave around 15:30. I had been off painkillers for several hours and it took me about 20 minutes to walk 300m. When I got home I checked my mail and by then I was in so much pain I was almost losing consciousness. Not cool at all. I had some schedule 5 drugs which were the business!


So the operation was not that bad at all. It is the days after that, at home, which can be tough. Forced to sit around and watch tv or read. But here I am 6 weeks later today. And doing much better now! Only 4 and a half months until I can paddle again!!!! In the meantime I’ve got several articles and the injury has not kept me away from the rivers. Until later, cheers.