In December 1999 my father took me rafting on the Zambezi River. This was the beginning of an idea which formed in my head, but would finally take form only in 2004, and it was thanks to him that I started kayaking. With that being his only river experience I decided to take him rafting on the Palmiet River. An easy river with a short 3km section – what could possibly go wrong?

It was a lovely August day, the sun was shining and the level was decent, a bit above medium I’d say. We hooked up with Rowan and Greg Walpole, as well as Teuns Kok and Frederick Hugo. Within minutes of starting we had a small situation with a tree but the 1 man raft (Ark Alligator) he was piloting remained upright. We continued. There are a few twists and turns and trees to avoid and then a fun rapid called Bubble and Squeak. It has a square rock near the bottom on the left, with a strange magnetic force that seems to attract beginners, at which point they lean away and flip over often resulting in a swim otherwise just some head bashing and wide eyes. With this in mind I advised my dad, Trevor, to take the easier right line, which is just aim straight and paddle. This worked out nicely. We continued.

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Theuns Kok narrowly avoiding the infamous rock of Bubble and Squeak.  Palmiet_29_August_2010_029_E1 copy

Greg Walpole on Bubble and Squeak.  Palmiet_29_August_2010_037_E1 copy

My dad, Trevor, cruising down no worries in my 1 man raft. Palmiet_29_August_2010_056_E1 copy Palmiet_29_August_2010_057_E1 copy Palmiet_29_August_2010_059_E1 copy

Frederick Hugo, having a good run. Palmiet_29_August_2010_064_E1 copyRowan Walpole easily avoiding the rock.

A few small bumps and then the rapid called Itchy and Scratchy, this also wasn’t a problem. This is followed by the rapid called ‘Waterfall’. I think he had a look but gave it a go. It’s an easy rapid for a raft and the photos usually look very cool, so why not be immortalized forever in a still photograph, right? Right! No problems, we continued :-)

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My dad down Waterfall rapid, easy. Palmiet_29_August_2010_093_E1 copyPalmiet_29_August_2010_141_E1 copyMyself on the pourover line of Waterfall. Photos by Rowan Walpole. (old article before I was sponsored by WRSI in case anyone is wondering… just took me ages to post)

The final rapid is awesomely named, Judgement Day. The name is extremely fitting and has roasted many a beginner, or anyone asleep for that matter. Given that the other rapids are short on the river this rapid is considered long, the longest by a long way. It is also the gnarliest I guess, with a feature known as ‘the Gates’ which awaits at the end of the run, a sort of final judgement. The Gates is just a big rock in the river with a hole on the upstream side and the line to take it through a relatively narrow section on the left of it, which is the gate. At high levels the water goes clean over and at high to flood you can easily paddle right over the rock. Anyway, back to our story.

So my pops decided to fire this rapid up and down we went. The first little weir and accompanying rapid were no issues, and then down to the next weir which is above the main body of the rapid. He cruised down the shelf part and hit the meat of a hole at the end which stopped him dead in his tracks. Uh oh. Straight away he was thrown into a side surf and consequently window shaded. The kayaking term for when the water from upstream catches your upstream edge of your kayak/raft and flips you over, usually very quickly… From here he swam, luckily keeping his feet up. Almost unfortunately he listened to my advice too carefully, doing everything by the book – feet up, on his back, holding onto the paddle (that gets the double thumbs up) but when he could have been proactive and swum for the river right eddy immediately, he did not. Of course, he’s not a kayaker and doesn’t know these things. So as a result he drifted down in true swimmers fashion. Just above the Gates is a v-hole, he swam through the right of this and with this feet nicely extended, his right foot hammered into a rock. In the photo this can be clearly seen. He then swam through Gates, going deep and melting it nicely.

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At the moment of window shading. Palmiet_29_August_2010_165_E1 copy Palmiet_29_August_2010_168_E1 copy Palmiet_29_August_2010_169_E1_CR copy

At the moment of fracturing his foot. Remember this is class 3, 3+ maybe. Imagine what a powerful rapid will do to you… Quite sobering. Keep safe!  Palmiet_29_August_2010_170_E1_CR copy Palmiet_29_August_2010_175_E1 copy Palmiet_29_August_2010_176_E1 copy

Through the Gates. Palmiet_29_August_2010_177_E1 copy Palmiet_29_August_2010_178_E1 copy Palmiet_29_August_2010_179_E1 copy

Exiting the Gates – a little down time in the aeration.  Palmiet_29_August_2010_180_E1 copy Palmiet_29_August_2010_182_E1_CR copy

My dad – not a happy man. Palmiet_29_August_2010_185_E1 copy

The end of the rapid. Palmiet_29_August_2010_189_E1_CR copyFrederick Hugo heading through the Gates.

Immediately he was in pain. We got to the left bank and had a look at the ankle, which he said was sore. It seemed ok, but obviously it wasn’t. We got the raft up eventually and within 20 minutes or so the foot hadn’t really swollen too much, I guess he still had the booty on and we were looking at the ankle mostly, not the foot. With much suffering he hobbled back to the top and at the time most of us didn’t think it was too serious. I honestly thought it was maybe sprained at worst. Afterwards we even went to Barrel in Betty’s Bay and knocked back a beer or two and some delicious food. He soldiered on – my dad is a tough bugger hardened from many years working in central Africa.

Hand_paddles_03_September_2010_031_E1_CRThe pins in his foot!

Later on, it was obvious that there was a more serious injury – hospital time according to my mom. X-rays and later MRI scans revealed multiple fractures in the top of his foot – NOT GOOD! :-( This resulted in surgery where 3 metal screws were placed across the foot, keeping the important bits together. They were big, maybe 6 or 7cm long, he has them somewhere now, as about 4 months later in another surgery they were then removed. Plus the surgeon managed to break off a piece of about 1cm which now remains in the foot, but apparently this happens a lot. So yeah, the rafting didn’t go too well. I still feel guilty about him running the rapid but commercially it is done all the time, and I’ve seen at least 70 + swims down that rapid, with no real injuries. However I have heard of a few unpleasant things here and there. It probably also comes down to luck, he was unlucky. But now, he doesn’t want to raft again, which is a shame but I guess you can’t really blame him. Thank goodness all ended well and apart from suffering in some serious heat up in Zambia right now my dad is alive and well, easily managing to walk to golf course. Happy days.

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Photography by: Adrian Tregoning. Unless otherwise stated.
Words by: Adrian Tregoning.