Kayaking Victoria Falls

According to BEN STOOKESBURY, Expedition kayaker who has notched more than 70 first descents and founded H20 Films

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls via Shutterstock     Photo: Pal Teravagimov

EXCLUSIVE: First Ascent: Kayaking Over Waterfalls

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Victoria Falls is probably the best-known and most spectacular on the planet. At over a mile wide, it’s commonly insinuated that a descent of the falls by kayak would be tantamount to suicide. But during a 2011 shoot with a Brazilian television show, kayaker Pedro Oliva and I saw a runable line over the far right side of the falls called the Devils Cataract. With a total drop of around 262 feet, not only would it establish a new world record for height, it would also be the first time a kayaker would eclipse 80 miles per hour in a kayak (this would happen during the final two-tenths-of-a-second of free fall).  

From there, I could envision kayakers concentrating on speed as the next bench mark for a record setting descent. Achieving 100 miles per hour in a kayak seems like a good goal. In theory, to achieve that speed in a river, we would need to find a runnable falls that was at least 336 feet tall. Of course to reach such a speed from that height, the wind resistance would need to be negligible. Fortunately, the downdrafts produced by falls would help reduce resistance. The center of Victoria Falls is roughly 335 feet tall, which would satisfy the height requirement, but the rocks at its base are a death trap. However, options for a 336-foot freefall might be found in British Columbia, Venezuela, or Norway. 

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