The Tana River Festival; Community Kayaking
The Tana river is the longest river in Kenya. Starting from the Aberdare mountain region and flowing all the way to Malindi where it enters the Indian Ocean. Near the town of Sagana, an adventure company, Savage Wilderness, makes the most of a 8km section of the river for Rafting, Kayaking, SUP and other water sports activities.
The 8km section is an amazing drop pool river! Big, technical rapids and calm sections where you can really get a feel for the local community and see all sorts of different wildlife in their natural element.
Every year Savage Wilderness hosts the Tana River Festival (TRF). This event has kayaking, mountain biking, a big air ramp and a triathlon. The event attracts paddlers from all over Europe, but contestants are mostly expats living locally, as well as some Ugandans and of course Kenyans.
But this event goes much further than just drawing athletes from around the world. The main aim of the event is to promote adventure sports within Kenya and share the passion of kayaking and mountain biking with people and more recently, the event has also helped people travel abroad for the first time in their lives.
Sammy Muturi grew up just 1km away from Savage Wilderness and spent his childhood swimming and fishing on the side of the river and watching rafts go past his home. He became hooked on the idea of paddling and spent much of his life dedicated to the sport. He trained on the Tana, learning from everyone around him and honing his skills to a point that last year he was given the opportunity to travel to Spain to compete in the ‘World Championship’ at ‘La Seu d’Urgell’. Before this, he had never left the country or even been on a plane, it was a completely new experience. He traveled to Spain for a month of slalom training and competitions in an environment entirely unfamiliar to him. More recently Sammy travelled to France, to compete in the “African Competition”, which was unfortunately cancelled due to Covid-19. He has returned sooner than planned, but continues to train on the Tana when he can.
Savage Wilderness have teamed up with the Kenyan Slalom Club and have seen a huge increase in younger members starting kayaking. This has given the younger members of the community the opportunity to try a completely different sport, most play football and nothing else. The slalom club and ‘International Canoe Federation (ICF) has given them the opportunity to travel and compete in competitions. The TRF has a beginner, intermediate and advanced category which gives members of the community to take part in the competition for their skill level, encouraging everybody to get on the water during the festival.
Moses Kaniaru used to spend his days driving as a ‘Boda Boda’ (motorbike) driver, transporting people and selling his chickens to hotels and families around the area. One year he watched the TRF and decided to take up kayaking as a sport. Some months of training later, he took part in the 2019 TRF and performed well. This has led him gaining work at Savage Wilderness as a guide leading various activities, and recently he has just completed his ‘International Rafting Federation’ (IRF) guide assessment.
With the TRF attracting international paddlers, it gives the local community a chance to engage with the wider world and exchange cultural differences, most of them find common ground in ‘banter’. The TRF brings the community together with other hotels being involved in the event. It’s an opportunity to ‘show off’ the area we live in and show everyone what an amazing section of white water is here and people take part in adventure sports regardless of their experience. Just from Sammy and Moses, the TRF is helping the local community grow, and with so many young paddlers getting involved, it will keep going so for years.
Special thanks must be given to the different sponsors: Savage Wilderness, Immersion Research, Infinity Outdoors, Jangwani, Cycle East Africa, Bikeshio.co.ke, USN
Glenn is a guide on the Tana, for Savage Wilderness, and is heavily involved in the planning of the Tana River Festival.