White Nile River Dream by Cat Hardman

As kayakers, we know Africa for its big whitewater and epic play waves. Since I was a little kid, I have dreamed of going to the White Nile in Uganda. After wanting to go to this river for years, I finally got to go with World Class Kayak Academy. At the end of October, I hopped on a plane and headed to Uganda. I was stoked.  

Before I get into the paddling, let me tell you the story of getting our kayaks in to Uganda. At World Class Academy, we agree on an airport to meet at and for this trip we met at Heathrow airport just outside of London. All the students and staff got their kayaks safely to Heathrow, and then we all head over to South African Airways for check in. We all get our “Sports Equipment” checked and we are on our way to Uganda, or at least we thought.  We start boarding and some of the student’s boarding passes turn green, which means you, can board. About half the students got onto the plane, yet the rest were not allowed to board because of their “Sports Equipment.”

The South African Airways workers went up to the staff proceeded to them that we lied about our baggage and that they were kayaks and not sports equipment. They removed all the kayaks from the plane and said that there wasn’t enough room in the plane for them. Though it’s funny because there were at least 100 seats open on the plane and most the staff and students had an entire row of seats to themselves, so there was obviously enough room for the kayaks. They wouldn’t let any of the kayaks on the plane, so we arrived in Uganda with no kayaks. World Class Academy had to airfreight the kayaks to Uganda which took two weeks.

After all the drama in London, we arrive in Entebbe and go straight to Nile River Explorers to rent kayaks and gear. We then jump in the Matatus and go to the river. The first day on the river was epic, I was full of excitement. The rapids were a lot bigger in person, but once you found the line it was good to go. We paddled the whole river down to the Hairy Lemon Island, where we stayed for the next three weeks.   

During the weekdays we would have school, then head up to Nile Special. Nile Special is one of the best waves in the world. I couldn’t wait to surf it!  I hadn’t surfed a big wave like this since June, so it took some time to adjust to being ragdolled occasionally. The greatest thing about Nile Special is that it greens out a bunch, so you can get massive passes which helped me learn to get the timing right to throw tricks and once I learned that, I was roosting off the wave with massive tricks. 

On the weekends we would go up stream to Itunda and Kalagala Falls. Itunda is a huge rapid and when scouting it you can’t even see where to start, so you start by entering the rapid blind. Then the goal is to dodge every hole and basically get down without being beat down in a massive hole, and from what I saw, it was very likely to be a beat down. Therefore, I walked that rapid and ran Kalagala Falls. 

Kalagala Falls is a sloping 15ft waterfall. I have wanted to run this rapid for six years and I finally got the chance to. To run this rapid you must ferry all the way across the river and be about 3 feet off the bank of river right. If you are too close to the right you will slam into a piton rock, which doesn’t look fun. If you are too close to the middle left or anywhere left, you will go into a hole and won’t have a good time.

I got into the water and was nervous, but I knew I could stick the line and send it. I ferried across the river and started to paddle off the drop and just aced my line and I couldn’t have been any happier. Then I got the chance to watch my entire group of peers also ace the line. For the next three weeks every weekend we would go do a river run and I would send it off Kalagala and it was amazing.  

After three weeks in this paradise we had to pack up and head out. This trip to Uganda was one of the best experiences I have ever had, riding around on the Matatus and Bodas then running some of the biggest rapids of my life, being able to throw massive tricks, and finally, spending time with some of my best friends paddling one of the greatest rivers in the world.