Whitewater kayaking is one of those experiences that seems to be on everyone’s bucket list but it’s one of the more difficult adventure sports to actually get out and try. For kayaking guide Robbie Mingay, it’s just another day in Jinja, Uganda.
I first travelled to Uganda for what was supposed to be six weeks of kayaking the Nile’s famous rapids. Little did I know that six weeks would soon stretch to three months, then to a year, and on to another. It’s not an uncommon story; kayakers from all over the world have travelled to Uganda and many have stayed for far longer than they ever could have anticipated. One of the reasons I have stayed this long is because I’ve been fortunate enough to work as a whitewater kayaking guide for Kayak the Nile based in Jinja, Uganda. It’s a wonderful place to teach others how to do what I love, and the reasons I enjoy working here are the same ones that make it a wonderful place to learn to kayak.
As a beginner, your first river can make a huge difference in how much you enjoy yourself. This is what makes Uganda’s White Nile so special. It has the unbeatable combination of being deep and warm, with great rapids. Because kayaking is such a niche sport, most of my clients are usually first timers. The introduction classes are always a favourite to teach. To take your own knowledge and pass it on to someone else is both challenging and rewarding. Everyone learns in different ways; some people like to hear instructions while others need to see something to understand, and this makes every lesson different.
And so we get out on the water and paddle down the river giving them a chance to see a side of Uganda that they usually haven’t experienced before. We pass fishermen carefully tending to their traps and casting their nets, villagers doing their washing on the river banks and beautiful areas of dense indigenous vegetation which are home to countless bird species. As we glide down the Nile, it’s usually not uncommon to hear the familiar, laugh-like call of a pair of fish eagles perched high up in the tree-tops.
When we approach the first rapid of the day, the first thing you notice is the sound. Initially, it’s faint, a barely perceptible white noise somewhere in the distance, but as you draw closer, it begins to amplify. Every paddle stroke propels you closer to the source of that sound and it is in this moment that one of my favourite parts of the day occurs. We approach our first rapid called ‘Jaws’, and that faint white noise begins to creep into the forefront of guest’s consciousness as they realize what that sound actually is.
How people react to that realization is a great part of my day. You can see them mentally shift gears depending on how they feel about the approaching challenge. For some, the excitement overrides their nervousness and it’s full-steam ahead. Others shift to neutral; more questions are asked, more hypothetical scenarios are talked through and, eventually, we go. Some switch to reverse but it’s only temporary as in the end, the draw of the rapid is too much to resist. People crave unique experiences and running a rapid in a kayak on the Nile is as thrilling as it gets.
As for the rapids themselves – they are big, with large powerful waves, swirling currents and fast-moving water. Despite that, they are remarkably safe and many are not too difficult to navigate. With the skills we teach on someone’s first ever day kayaking, many beginners make it down some of the rapids without capsizing. Those that do capsize end up swimming down the rapid which, in the Nile’s warm water, can be just as fun as paddling them.
Whitewater kayaking is one of those experiences that seems to be on everyone’s bucket list but it’s one of the more difficult adventure sports to actually get out and try. Travellers visiting Jinja should be excited by the wonderful opportunity they have to try whitewater kayaking on such an incredible river.
For more information on kayaking the Nile River in Jinja, check out kayakthenile.com