Conquering Demons: Kayak Adventure in South Africa

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With storm surge like this, it's not hard to see the inspiration behind the area's name. Photo by Emma Strumpman
With storm surge like this, it’s not hard to see the inspiration behind the area’s name. Photo by Emma Strumpman

Kayaking in South Africa

Then it clicked – the waves back in the ocean were so strong, their force could still be felt this far down the gorge. As the ocean surged inwards, the river was pushed over the rocks with such strength that a rapid was created. There was a moment of stillness, before the ocean retreated again and repeated the pattern in reverse. My spine prickled. But, before I could let the fear – and the tour guide’s unexpected announcement that the conditions were more dangerous than normal – sink in, I had boarded the lilo and let the incoming surge from the ocean take me upstream, past the cliff jump and away from that demon of a rapid.

We gently floated along, seeming at ease. Yet, a sense of panic still lingered – did I really need to throw myself off that cliff, into volatile black waters that could morph into rapids at any second?

The time came on our way downstream, just before boarding our boats for the homeward stretch. I decided not to think twice about it. Seemingly within the blink of an eye, I’d scrambled up the mountain side, leaving my lilo on the bank down below, taken a deep breath and a gallant leap, and – with a very ungraceful splash – was back in the water once more.

Still treading water, I looked up at the cliff to watch my elder brother take the 4-metre jump, finally grasping what I’d just done. It was exhilarating. I couldn’t help but smile with secret pride. It’s worth putting your fears aside for that feeling.

While the waves swirled about in the Stormsriver mouth, our guides mentioned the river would be calmer further down the gorge. At first, we were not entirely convinced. Photo by Emma Strumpman
While the waves swirled about in the Stormsriver mouth, our guides mentioned the river would be calmer further down the gorge. At first, we were not entirely convinced. Photo by Emma Strumpman

Strangely, the water had remained glassy during these jumps. The tidal surges had seemingly subsided, and I was starting to think, on our way back to the jetty, that the ocean up ahead had settled. Not so much.

On our return, the waves roaring towards us from under the suspension bridge were so high, the wind pushing the kayaks in such wayward directions that we couldn’t dock and hop off to safety. We just sat there, bobbing up and down. I watched the guide pull out his cell phone and make a call for back-up.

“That’s it,” I thought. “We’re going to die.” Not that I’m over-dramatic or anything, but I was having all sorts of visions of stormy seas engulfing boats, arms flailing in the air and helicopter rescues. My dad, seated in the rear of our kayak, encouraged me to keep the vessel perpendicular to the rising swell. I was told repeatedly not to panic.

“I’m not panicking!!” I wanted to shriek. I was in full-on panic mode.

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