For several years now I’ve been friends with Charl van Rensburg. Charl is different from most of my other friends in that he does not kayak, windsurf, surf or bodyboard, he riverboards - also known as hydrospeeding. The definition from the Wiki is as follows, “Riverboarding is a boardsport in which the participant lies prone on their board with fins on their feet for propulsion and steering.” On the 22nd of July this year we had a great level on the Witte River here in the Western Cape province of South Africa and although I had been down rivers with Charl before, we had not done the Witte together.

I’ve been kayaking for nine years now and although am only a weekend warrior I’ve seen a few rivers in several countries and in that time I can honestly say that the Witte still ranks very highly as a super fun river with loads of excellent rapids and a river that will always challenge you no matter skilled you are. There is a saying here in the Cape that says you will never be too good for the Witte – I agree. During its 7.5km section that is typically paddled the river drops 270m giving an average gradient of 36m/km, which in anyone’s books is quite decent. The middle section is steeper and exceeds 50m/km for about a kilometer. The river bed is completely strewn with smooth, rounded boulders sometimes larger than a small truck and because of this there are many siphons (sieves) to avoid during the course of the river and a few mean undercuts and loads of pinning potential. With the perception being that a kayaker is a lot more mobile and ‘in control’ than a riverboarder it begs the question why anyone would want to head down this river lying down holding on a piece of plastic?

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One of the first real drops on the first quarter section. Adrian Tregoning up front in the green boat, followed by Ant Hoard in mid-air and Scheepers Schoeman and Charl van Rensburg in the eddy above.

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Charl van Rensburg heading down.

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Adrian Tregoning in Fluid’s Big Bang down the siphon alley section.

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Charl van Rensburg about to drop in the siphon alley section.

I think in the kayaking community anyone who is not a kayaker is looked down upon as something lesser. Whilst riverboarding is quite unknown here in South Africa from what I hear riverboarders are looked upon as the clumsy fools with no skill in other parts of the world. This follows the same pattern as surfers looking down at bodyboarders (and everyone else for that matter) and I could give many other examples but it’s probably just human nature for people to view their chosen sport as ‘the one’, and not give thought or recognition to those enjoying the same type of environment but in a different way. I think it is a lack of understanding that brings about these feelings. Many times surfers would assume a bodyboarder to not rank as highly as them based on the fact that it is perceived that bodyboarding is an easy sport. As a bodyboarder myself (and a beginner surfer) I agree that to start off with, you can ride down the face of the wave, get barreled, and make quick progress long before you would do the same on a surfboard. Does this make it a lesser skilled sport? Maybe, only in that the progression in the beginning is far quicker as those core skills are easier to acquire. But to do the aerial moves in bodyboarding is damn difficult and that sort of skill takes ages to obtain. The point I’m trying to bring through is that on initial inspection an activity might be written off as crap or the pilot/rider to be unskilled but this is often not the case.

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Charl van Rensburg amidst some chaos in the steep middle section of the Witte.

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Adrian Tregoning on the small slide, which is directly below the 30m slide (not photographed).

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Charl van Rensburg on the lead-in’s to Double Drop.

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Adrian Tregoning taking the right hand lead-in to Double Drop.

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Ant Hoard firing up the infamous Double Drop.

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Tobias Nietzold all the way from Germany firing up Double Drop as well.

Given a nice class 4 river, and place a beginner kayaker and a beginner riverboarder side by side and tell them to give it horns, I’d place my money on the riverboarder making it down to the bottom and probably not even injured. Whereas the kayaker would have flipped sooner rather than later, more than likely used his head as an anchor amongst some rocks, swum and be shaken for a while afterwards. To begin with one can bomb down rivers quite easily with a riverboard but this doesn’t mean you will do so gracefully, or indeed, exactly where you wish to go. So the assumption cannot be that every single person who riverboards is not an althete of sorts, or unskilled. Beginners need to take heed of this warning and realise the risks that are inherent with any river sports and indeed riverboarding. It can take a long time to gain the skills needed to accurately plot a course through a technical river. Charl was a sponsored bodyboarder back in the day by well known manufacturer Morey, and even joined the iconic Mike Stewart when he was on tour in South Africa many years ago. His back ground to bodyboarding (and the fact that he body surfs and uses surf matts too) means Charl is fit, strong, and knows water better than most people. Watching him riverboard down the Witte was quite something. I was impressed, as was everyone else. He gracefully weaved a path down between the rocks and I cringed, wondering how afraid I would be to run that river at, as they say, Face Level? ( ) Pilkington Falls has a more difficult and dangerous left line and Charl came charging through no problem. Double Drop too, no worries.

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Adrian Tregoning finishing off the Two Teacups rapid.

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Ant Hoard in centre frame with Charl van Rensburg about to finish off the Two Teacups. Top part of rapid not shown.

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Charl van Rensburg about to disappear in the final wave on Two Teacups.

In the meantime I’ve bought my own Fluid Anvil (Fluid’s new riverboard!) and will definitely give it a bash this year down an easy river or two. For sure I won’t be very skilled or graceful but it will give me a new perspective onto the already familiar runs here, and for me, change is good. I was dubious about this riverboarding thing but I’ve given it a lot of thought and it definitely will never replace kayaking but it definitely has a place for someone wanting to experience a river differently, provided they have the guidance, skill and knowledge to safely do so. Happy days on the water. Keep safe! And thanks again to Maren Thieme for the lovely photos!

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Words by: Adrian Tregoning.
All Photos by: Maren Thieme – thank you kindly!