Meeting Hendri by Joe Henry

Remembering Hendri

— This story originally ran in C&K’s 2011 issue of Whitewater, now available on newsstands.

Coetzee in the Black Channels. Photo: Eddie Bauer First Ascent/Chris Korbulic

By Joe Henry

I can’t even roll a kayak, but that’s how we met. In 2006, I was on a truck tour through Africa and Hendri was working as a raft guide on the Nile in Jinja. I signed up for a kayak tour.

The boss went off and told Hendri, ‘Hey, two nice-looking girls have signed up for tandem kayaking.’ I think I weighed about 210 pounds.

I rocked up and said, ‘G’day I’m one of the kayakers.’

He said, ‘You look a bit heavy.’

We jumped in a tandem kayak and he gave me the standard safety routine: we did a few rolls and made sure he could get us upright. I mean, I did nothing; just leaned forward and held the boat. He was strong enough to pull us both up. Then he said, ‘We’re going to try a few things, it’s a little risky.’

I was like, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’

He said, ‘Excellent.’ We got on from that moment.

We ran some lines that hadn’t been tried in a tandem before. I tried to give him a tip at the end of the day, but he wasn’t interested. He said, ‘Nah, I’m happy with today. You weren’t quite the hot girl I was promised, but never mind.’

We had a good night drinking and I thought that would be the last I saw of him. But the next day, on a Nile island called the Hairy Lemon, Hendri showed up as a kayak instructor. I hadn’t signed up, but he lent me his gear for a kayak lesson.

I tried to pay him again but he said, ‘I don’t want it.’

Two-and-a-half months later I was in Cape Town. He sent a note asking if he had the right email, and by the way would I like to go on a month-long trip on the Blue Nile. He was looking for a few more people who could help carry stuff, paddle when they’re told, and share the cost.

On the first day he flipped the raft. Hendri, Becky Armitage, and Gustav Nel, the cameraman, all got tossed. It was pretty vicious. It smashed the oars; one of them was never seen again and the other was in three bits. Hendri must have been under the water for 30 or 40 seconds. It’s a really long time when you’re waiting for someone to pop up.

For the rest of the trip, Hendri and I took a paddle each, I sat at the front and he sat at the back and we paddled our way down the river. I don’t know how he does it. The boat just sort of dropped down and went where he wanted. I just did exactly as I was told.

- Joe Henry is an engineer in New Zealand. As told to Will Taylor.


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