A rapid day on the Zambezi

Written by: Simon OChen

The rapids of the Zambezi River are regarded as some of the best in the world. People from all over the world come to raft or kayak this monstrous surge of water, classed from 1 to 6 (1 being the easiest and 6 being commercial suicide – no company will take clients through a class 6).


I joined Rafting Extreme, the company that was going to take me through the rapids along with a group of nine life-loving girls from the UK. After the safety talk and a drill on how to pull someone from the water we split into two boats and off we headed down to ‘The Boiling Pot’, rapid number 1 with a class 2 rating.

rafting-zambezi rapids-zambezi-river

‘The Boiling Pot’ was an easy rapid to go through but it doesn’t prepare you for the second one, ‘Between Two Worlds’, a class 4, straight shot of water-over-rock. Rapid 3 has yet to be named and it too was a tosser, but we all managed to stay in the boat.

white-water-rafting-zambezi white-water-rafting

‘Morning Glory’ was the next one, another class 4 of churning water, trying to turn us into cappuccino froth. And then it was our first class 5 called ‘Stairway to Heaven’. It was here I was offered to river-board (strap a bogey board to your wrist and go find your religion).


I followed the guide and the water swept me through and then sucked me under. I didn’t take enough air and battled the surge to surface. I had point zero of a second to suck in any oxygen along with half the Zambezi before resurfacing in calmer waters.


Back in the raft, we approached ‘The Devil’s Toilet Bowl’ and swirled through to infamous number 7 – famous for tipping all rafts. Alas, we never made it through. We lost momentum and floated to the rocks, getting stuck on the Zimbabwean side. We climbed out while the guides freed the boat.


At least we had a VIP view to watch the other rafts flip and dunk everyone into the water.

Rapid 8 is ‘The Midnight Diner’ featuring ‘The Muncher’. Meaning, ‘The Diner’ is a class 3 while ‘The Muncher’ is a class 5, “With an 80% chance of flipping,” the guide announced. “Which one do you want to do?”

I was surprised when the girls wanted to crack the 80%. We paddled hard. I was sitting in the front and as we went over the lip I knew that I was in the wrong spot. We slammed into the surge and I was launched like a Qassam rocket. I reached out and my fingers found rope and held on as one of the girls pulled me up.

Fast approaching was number 9, ‘Commercial Suicide’ – a class 6. It was here we took a break on the rocks and had a snack while we walked around the rapid, watching the ugliest body of water smooth out the rocks it was pounding.


Our last rapid, ‘The Gnashing Jaws of Death’ was aptly named as it seemed like we were indeed entering the jaws of death. Popping out, we high-fived our paddles to a great morning as we floated to the trail on which we would hike back up to the buses.


The whole 'life is too short' cliche is real and I'm out to take advantage of it. I don't like money and I have no aspiration to be financially wealthy so I'm bartering and hitch-hiking my way around the world, offering any help needed, writing articles and guitar-gigging for food and lodgings as well as volunteering with wildlife\marine conservation organisations where I can to raise vital awareness. Life is one shot. No more. No less. Go live it. Follow my journey on Facebook or on my website.

Africa Geographic