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Adventurers of the Year Tribute: Hendri Coetzee, Kayaking’s Underground Icon

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Over the past few weeks, the kayaking community has come together to ask us to honor legendary paddler Hendri Coetzee in our Adventurers of the Year feature. Their voices were heard. This underground icon of the kayaking world captured the spirit of adventure on par with the world's greatest explorers. He will be greatly missed. Photograph by Darin McQuoid

The Kayaker
South African Hendri Coetzee—among the greatest expedition paddlers of his generation—kayaked the Nile from source to sea, twice, and undertook some of the longest and hardest waterways on Earth, often alone.

Until just a few months before his tragic death in December, it was very difficult to find much detail regarding the never ending adventure that was Hendrik “Hendri” Coetzee’s life. That’s just how the South African liked it: This is a man who told almost no one about his epic, record-breaking trip down the entire length of the longest river in the world, the Nile. But he also had friends, and a growing fan base. So Coetzee started a blog. As with everything he did, this was no half-hearted venture. Coetzee captured the excitement of his expeditions with wisdom and humor, his entries were insightful and heartfelt, and give us a glimpse into the mind of a true explorer.

His last trip, a first descent down the Ruzizi River, along the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, uncovered some of the steepest and largest volume whitewater in the continent. Just a few days in, Coetzee was euphoric:

“I thought I had been to most of the big gorges in Africa but it turns out only to the known ones. To find myself in something of that scale, almost unknown, was worth every drop of sweat, every public bus ride, every fly infested nowhere border town I have invested time in, ever. Dwarfed by lush green mountains rising up to 3,000 feet above us, we were drawn in ever deeper with a constant eye on the banks for trouble, by the river with every foot of is relentless gradient.

“To avoid detection from possible soldiers downstream, we took out at the last big rapid. An army of impromptu porters were eager to carry our boats out what seemed to me a challenging affair. ¾ up, the storm unleashed, dragging a curtain of water towards us through the warped valley. As hard, warm drops trashed at our little selves and a pair of goats,we stood precariously on a unknown slope deep in the heart of Africa, for once my mind and heart agreed, I would never live a better day.”—By Ryan Bradley