River Surfing was one of the activities that kind of popped up and surprised me. It was only by a recommendation that we ended up doing this and I am really glad that we did because it was one of my best experiences in New Zealand. I was a bit tentative about taking part in the run up because, although I can swim and I am fairly competent, I am not that necessarily that confident or in truth that good. So the thought of floating down a river through grade 3 rapids with only body boards did not sit so easily on my mind. However, as with most things in New Zealand, I had found a new level of confidence installed in myself so I was fully up for taking it on!
We were picked up in Queenstown and taken to the place we would be launching from. It actually turned out it was just one of those industrial containers that these guys kept all their gear in. Nonetheless, we all got suited up and chose our boards! We had 4 guides who were to accompany us down the river and before long we were sat at the edge of the river getting our brief of what was going to be happening. After being told certain rules and instructions we were to be given a demonstration of how to get into the current of the river and also to get out of it. Seemed straight forwards on paper, even to the guide demonstrating it; that was until he missed the calm waters and went straight on down the river! As you can imagine this made us feel very confident about what we were about to do.
We were to be doing two runs down the river, with the first one serving the purpose of getting to grips with what we were doing. Still, it was pretty full on. We had to paddle hard to get out of the ‘eddy’ (calm waters) and into the main current at which point we were whisked off down the river! What came next was a lot of floundering around in the water to get ourselves in the right positions and then getting battered by the rapids. It was actually really fun (honest!), especially one of the biggest rapids we took on which they called the ‘man eater’ which you can see in the video below. One of the main things we noticed on the first run was just how strong our guides were. If one of us started to fall behind or veer off course (which happened; quite a lot) these guys would just appear out of nowhere and launch you off down the river. Although we were engaging in a potentially dangerous activity, you felt pretty safe with the guides around. They did this as their jobs and were so competent and laid back that it kind of installed a sense of calmness over us all.
Not long after this we stopped in another ‘eddy’, which wasn’t as easy as it sounds when you have got gallons of water pushing you along down the river. Once we had all regrouped we were given the opportunity to jump from a rock into the river from over 5 metres up. Now as I had said earlier I am not one of the most confident with water and have never done anything like this before. So initially I thought I would rather take a rest. Fighting the currents to keep on track was incredibly tiring and really took it out of you so I was glad to catch a breather. I stood watching as a couple of people jumped in and thought to myself, I’ve come here to throw myself into every thing, so why am I not doing this? With that in mind I headed up the riverbank and waited for my turn. I’m not going to say I was elegant or graceful, more like a flailing chicken… but I had still done it! Once we were back in the river it wasn’t long until we had completed our first run at which point we were all relieved to get a break, even if it was brief.
On the second run we were told about several features of the river we could interact with. The obvious one would be trying to actually catch a wave. To do so we had to turn around to face upstream and kick as hard as we could as we approached the rapid. The aim is to let the wave of white water keep you at that point or even to take you forwards a little. The video below shows just how badly we did when we attempted this, and just how well it was done by our guide. Another feature we were told about were squirts. This was where you let yourself get dragged under at certain places, and then after no time at all, the river will launch you back up and squirt you out, hence the name. And of course there was the whirlpools; I’m sure you all know how these work. Right now you are probably thinking these sound quite dangerous and well, deadly? Actually we were encouraged to seek out and interact with these features of the river. It sounds crazy I know and I cannot really tell you much about what they were like because even on the second run, I was kind of pre occupied concentrating on getting down the river intact. I hope the videos give you an impression of how crazy and fulfilling this experience was. Enjoy!