When things go wrong

Paddlers: Mike Dawson (NZL), Vavrinec Hradilek (CZE), Johann Roozenburg (NZL) and Ciaran Heurteau (IRL)

text by Ciaran Heurteau


A plan was made just after the Slalom World Championships in Seu d'Urgell that four slalom kayakers - Mike Dawson (NZL), Vavrinec Hradilek (CZE), Johann Roozenburg (NZL) and Ciaran Heurteau (IRL) would go and run some of the hardest rivers that New Zealand had in the south island.


Mike and Johann are experienced extreme kayaker, with Mike winning the Teva mountain games and coming 2nd at the Adidas Sickline World Championships, I had only done a couple of rivers and was a semi-finalist at the Adidas Sickline and Vavra had only done a couple of rivers. Feeling confident with the slalom skills we've acquired over the years we were ready to experience something new, without going over the top.


Our journey started the day after the first ICF ranking race in Mangahoe, after being dropped off the ferry in Picton. After arriving in Hokitika our plan was to attach 2 creek boats on the side of Dando's helicopter and go heli-kayaking. Only a chopper could have bring us to the top of the river, or hiking for 2 days with the creek boats on our shoulder, which didn't sound to appealing to us. The ride to the top was amazing, we realised how steep the river was when we were climbing up the whole way to the put in of the chopper, thinking "when are we going to stop climbing!!!!"


Creek boats, paddles, safety rope, first aid kit and a couple of cereal bars, we were ready for our first river descent in the south island. The river was called the Kokotai, Mike and Johan had already been down a couple of months before but with the water being a good 1.5m higher, so the lines were all different. The first half of the descent went smoothly, with a couple of drops and undercuts that we had to be careful of. Mike being the first to run the lines he would then tell everyone if it was sweet, or had to take another line. The carnage happened about half way down when I, having seen Mike giving the sign that all was sweet but you had to run close to the right, missed a stroke and ended up on the left of that nasty hydraulic drop, and got stuck in it doing the washing machine. Johann still to come behind couldn't see me in the drop and paddle off the drop, luckily he went underneath and flushed out fine, but that didn't give a big enough kick to me out. Mike having one feet in the boat and one on the rock tried to through the rope, but slipped and failed to reach me.


After spending a good time getting worked in the hole my paddle disintegrated, hitting the rocks around me, both blades and shaft were off. I then pulled the deck off and swam out screaming like hell because I just dislocated my shoulder. Failing to put it back in, decision had to be made, so Mike and Vavra bombarded the river to get rescue while me and Johann stayed out in the bush impatiently, waiting for someone to come to rescue. The police messed up the coordinates and the rescue chopper just flew over us on their turn to go back, meaning we would have to spend a night in the bush. Feeling like a million needles were pinching my shoulder I was in agony and started to lose it. Johan with good surviving skills, was able to make a sort of camp away from the river. Survival blankets, couple of cereal bars we were set to spend our most uncomfortable night. Around 5.30 Am, after 12h we got winched out and flown back to the hospital, where they put my shoulder back in.


After being told that I could have lost my arm if I hadn't forced myself pumping blood in my left arm by moving my hand, I felt very lucky. I then stayed in New Zealand for another 2 weeks to enjoy the scenery and was flown back in Business Class on the new A380, proudly representing Sandiline ;-)



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