SWAZI XFEST 2015
Swazi kayaker Bheki Gadlela came out top in one of the two competitive events held during this past weekend’s 2015 Swazi Xfest on the Komati River. This annual event is open to white-water kayakers and attracted entries from as far as Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, Upington in South Africa and the USA.
In its inaugural year, 2014, the Swazi Xfest was held on the Great Usutu River near Bhunya, however this year due to water shortages the event was almost cancelled due to concerns about water levels being too low. Fortunately for the organisers White Water Republic, local rafting operator Swazi Trails invited the competitors to sample the stretch of white-water which the company is currently using for its daily commercial white-water rafting trips. This stretch of river runs from below Maguga Dam downstream past the famous waterfall feature called The Gap.
The 2015 Swazi Xfest featured two timed events, both run down sections of Grade IV white-water. River grading runs from Grade I for safe and easy, to Grade VI being life-threatening. The first event was a Boat-a-Cross, which sees five kayakers per heat lining up side-by-side to race downstream. The fastest time overall wins the title. It was in this event that local paddler Bheki Gadlela excelled, beating experienced South African racer Johan Swart by one second. Third was Luke Longridge, forth Ryan Peel and fifth Tian Fullard, all from South Africa.
Bheki Gadlela, who is the Lead Raft Guide for Swazi Trails, has been kayaking for almost 15 years, and his daily routine sees him escorting tourists safely downstream on rafting trips. “I am fortunate that I get to paddle 3 to 4 times every week,” said Gadlela, “and whilst many of my competitors have been crying about drought conditions causing a lack of opportunity to paddle, we are fortunate here in Swaziland to have had sustained water releases from Maguga Dam on a daily basis.”
Whilst Gadlela’s on-the-job fitness was no doubt an advantage, he did not have the benefit of river knowledge for this particular stretch of river. “We raced down a section of rapids that are not used by Swazi Trails for rafting, due to the rapids being too big and difficult for the early stages of a rafting trip, clarified Gadlela. “We normally put-in to the river just below them. For me, it was only my second time to see these rapids, as we kayaked them only once before in June during a raft guide training course.”
In the second timed event, called the Kayak Sprint, Johan Swart got his revenge, winning in a time of 40.5 seconds, just 10 splits of second faster than Longridge, who in turn was 30 splits ahead of Mpumalanga-based kayaker Kestell Barnard. Up and coming kayaker, Melusi Magugula, a younger brother of Gadlela, filled 4th place for Swaziland, narrowly beating Tian Fullard into 5th. This event was run downstream of The Gap Waterfall on what is known as Tragedy Rapid, a place, which saw a competitor loose his life, 10 years ago during an adventure race called the Swazi Xtreme. The name of the rapid is a sober reminder of the unpredictable dangers of this river sport.
All-in-all a total of 26 participants enjoyed the event, which included a second day of more relaxed kayaking on Sunday. Notable was the presence of three generations of kayakers from the Raw family, being Hugh Raw (75), Darron Raw (45), Shane Raw (42), Kei Raw (14) and Bryden Raw (12).
Post-event feedback indicates a likelihood of this event remaining in the Hhohho region, with professionally managed KOBWA agricultural water releases providing an added spin-off for tourism that is only likely to increase going into the future.
Bheki Gadlela (Swazi) 02:33:00
Johan Swart (SA) 02:34:00
Luke Longridge (SA) 02:40:00
Ryan Peel (SA) 02:40:30
Tian Fullard (SA) 02:43:00
Kayak Sprint Results
Johan Swart (SA) 00:40:50
Luke Longridge (SA) 00:41:00
Kestell Barnard (SA) 00:41:30
Melusi Magagula (Swazi) 00:45:00
Tian Fullard (SA) 00:45:20
The next event on the Xfest calendar is the Thrombi Xfest on the 23rd – 24th January 2016
For more information on white-water rafting in Swaziland see: white water rafting