Remembering Hendri

Our tribute to one of paddling's greatest explorers, in the words of those who knew him best

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

Valhalla Bound

Valhalla Bound: Coetzee

In death, Hendri Coetzee reminded us how to live.

The 35-year-old South African explorer had quietly amassed one of the most impressive expedition resumes in whitewater: he made the first complete descent of the Nile from source to sea, notched eight trips through the Nile’s Murchison Falls section, and kayaked more of the Congo River than anyone in history. But the most extraordinary thing about Hendri is not the rivers he ran, but the way that he ran them.

As his best friend and expedition partner Pete Meredith put it, “Hendri used expeditions to explore himself as much as the places he was traveling through.” Seeking that deeper experience, he often traveled alone. He navigated Africa’s hazards—warring militias, crocodiles, territorial hippos and the planet’s biggest whitewater—with a seeming nonchalance that belied his vigilance and careful preparation. He’ll be remembered as one of the great river explorers of our time, but his exploits hearken to an earlier era, when men like Livingstone and Speke explored Africa’s great rivers from bottom to top. The difference is that those men were looking for riches to exploit. Hendri was searching for something purer.

He was a singularly driven person, but fortune and ego had nothing to do with his motivation. When his friend Rolf Potts arranged for a feature story in a high-profile men’s magazine, Hendri declined. “I don’t really think the standard ‘I’m a badass article’ is what I’m after,” Hendri told him. “Back in the forest tomorrow. Take care out there in the concrete jungle.”

Hendri’s story may never transcend the bizarre circumstances of his death—pulled, creekboat and all, under the Lukuga River by a crocodile. The media couldn’t resist sensationalizing the story, and those who didn’t know Hendri couldn’t help but judge him—an exercise that his friends know to be pointless. You don’t judge a man like Hendri Coetzee, and you certainly don’t change him. You can only remember the good times you shared—as seven of his friends do in a series of featured installments we will be posting over the next two weeks—and carry on. — Jeff Moag

“He Didn’t Like Baggage” by Pete Meredith
“The Best Day Ever” by Seth Warren
“Meeting Hendri” by Joe Henry
“Hendri’s Way” by Gustav Nel
“Kadoma”, a film teaser chronicling Hendri’s last adventure, produced by Hendri Coetzee, Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic
“He Brought Perseverance” by Ben Stookesberry
“No Half Measures” by Celliers Kruger
“Laughing In The Rain” by Chris Korbulic
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