The Best Day Ever by Seth Warren

Remembering Hendri

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

Hendri Coetzee at Bujagali

Stay on my Stern: Coetzee runs the center line at Bujagali. Photo: Eddie Bauer First Ascent/Chris Korbulic

By Seth Warren

The fall of 2004 at the Nile Rivers Explorers bar had a Never Never Land feel, and Hendri definitely had that Peter Pan demeanor. I don’t recall the moment we met, but I’ll never forget the first time we paddled together—straight off the ski jump from the bar, and through the center of the ‘Hump,’ a giant Class V rapid right in front of Speke Camp. He told me to stay on his stern, and he took me straight through the middle of Bujagali Falls, a line that is impossible to scout from the shore. He later taught me the secret of running that line. Not many people do it and when they do, it always gathers a crowd cheering from the camp at Speke.

We found each other in the eddy down below with grins from ear to ear. It was a mutual respect and friendship on the spot: to Hendri for knowing the line, to me for being crazy enough to follow.

Hendri knew this river better than anyone. He had studied every wave and knew every level, rock surge and eddy in those sections. He and I shared a passion for adventure. It seemed like that’s all we talked about. But Hendri did more than just talk.

The first week I was there, he was telling me about all the lines he had run in the back channels, an area consisting of four channels full of Class V rapids that could be run individually on the 1-kilometer section between the two boater bars on the Nile. Hendri had been running them for years and knew every line on every rapid. I asked him if he had ever run them all in a day. He answered with an invitation to try. There were probably eight major lines, separated by wildlife-rich, overgrown islands making them next to impossible to scout. He handed me his entire book of tricks. We ran them one after another, hiking back up each time to run the next one. I stayed on Hendri’s stern, and memorized the approaches and initiations. He handed me a rite of passage, a knowledge of the river, a history of exploration. All in one afternoon.

Later that day we were drinking cold Nile Specials and he said to me ‘Well, bru, I’d have to say that was the best day ever!’

I wholeheartedly agreed.

Not long after that, he told me about the Murchison section, which he and Pete Meredith had rafted on their Nile source-to-sea expedition earlier that year. It didn’t take much convincing before the wheels were turning to make the first real kayak exploration of all the rapids there. We started a ‘Nile training camp’ that was half-serious and half a joke to prepare for the adventure. Hendri set the tone. He’d wake me up every morning and say, ‘Are you ready for the best day ever?’ From that first day with him on the back channels forward, I looked at every day that way. The entire time I spent with Hendri, I can honestly say that.

The funny thing is that for a long time, I thought ‘the best day ever’ was something between him and me. Later, I came to find out that it was his thing with everyone. It’s something that has inspired me, and many others in every aspect of life. And it’s so simple: Make Every Day the Best Day Ever. I can’t think of a better legacy.

— Seth Warren paddled the Murchison Falls section of the White Nile with Coetzee in 2004.


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