This is how you (not) surf the best riverwave in the world.
After two days of driving pretty much straight the entire day, from Windhoek crossing the Caprivi and the border to Zambia, I arrived in Livingstone. Somewhere around here I was supposed to find someone that could take me to the infamous riverwave, which lays in the crocodile infested Zambezi river.
The next morning, before I even had the chance to get a coffee or breakfast, I connected with some of the rafting guides. A quick negotiation about the prize and we packed a kayak, swimming-vests and helmets on and in my car and left to the river-rapid 10 from where the path down into the gorge descents. Once we made it down to the bottom of the gorge, we were basically jumping from rock to rock, along the Zambezi on the Zimbabwean site to the rapid number 11 – the wave.
By the time we got to the actual wave, my legs were already pretty tired and my head aching. Not just that I didn’t have anything to eat before we left, but the heat was killing me. At first sight the wave looked somewhat shit and small. However once I jumped into the water and kinda dropped below “sea level” right before the pitting wave I realized how sketchy that think actually was. Ending up a little to far on the shoulder I dropped out the back without catching it and received my first washing. Fighting myself back to shore I realized another hurdle to the wave. The black rocks flanking the sides of the river, were unbearably hot, I mean fucking hot. So fucking hot that when one of the Canadian kayakers lost his Kayak the next day, he had to wrap up his feed in his board short and ran after his boat with his best friend dangling between his legs. Since nobody told me, I didn’t bring my booties along and all I could do was fletch my teeth, jump from rock to rock never missing the little brown and warm puddles that gave some relief.
The second try the exact same thing happened. The third time, my feet on fire, my legs burning, my head aching, I managed to bodyboard the wave for a short while before getting properly annihilated, I received three hold-downs and even found time and space to climb my leash on one occasion –> check the video. Yes climb the leash! And even after I climbed back up the leash and got hold of my board it pulled me down two more times. At this point, I shall mention Steve Fisher, an absolute Kayak hellman and Zambezi pioneer. The story, varying slightly, is that Steve ones tried the wave on a surfboard himself, just to pop up after bailing further down the river bleeding from nose and ears, some even say he had to be resuscitated. Weather or not this is true, the wave is unique and depending on where you are in the whirlpool, it can be frightening. Less frightened but angry with myself for not making it I tried it anopther last time. This time, I caught the wave and went airdropping, just to remind you I am talking about a riverwave, down into the flats and got smashed one more and the last time so far. After a fourth time torturing myself – walking back bare feet. I was done.
For those of you who want to try it, here a few things you should know.
The wave is located just below Victoria Falls – rapid 11.
As the water level varies throughout the year, the wave works usually around June/July and some time between January and February.
The wave breaks square, therefore a board with a bit rocker seems to be the board of choice.
Bring booties or some kind of shoes along, or a bunch of oversize blister plasters. Your choice really!
Even if you know where the wave is, it makes sense to take someone with you especially if you are alone, you will find guides in Livingstone that can also hook you up with life vest and helmet.
The life vest seems to be a really good idea, the downtime can be really long and intense.
Bring plenty of time, water and food! Once you are at the wave you really want to take it easy and spend the day.
You have to hurry. Zambia and Zimbabwe are planing on damming the Zambezi up, all the way to rapid 7. Approximate realization of the project is in 7 years.