Splash, dash, fear and fun on Kawarau River rapids


Sooo … class four rapids on a boogie board. That sounds, err, exhilarating? Or terrifying? Yes, that’s it, terrifying. 

Like many Queenstown activities, river boarding bridges that unexpectedly narrow line between fun and fear. 

Raging rapids are, after all, generally to be avoided at all costs. 

But Serious Fun River Surfing has been running trips down the mighty Kawarau River for almost a quarter of a century and kitted out with wetsuits, helmets, life jackets, boogie boards, water boots and fins – but definitely no raft – we’re ready to go. 

An hour later, after comprehensive instructions, some training rapids and tranquil coasting, our group hits the main surfing rapid on the Chinese Dog Leg section, Do Little Do Nothing. 

Actually surfing it turns out to be fairly difficult but not panic-attack scary as the buoyancy of all the equipment makes you feel you’ll never really go under. You enter one by one from the side, paddling upstream at 45 degrees out of the eddy before slipping into the sequence of waves. 

You then have to kick, kick, kick as hard as possible to even get in position on the wave to surf down its face – but often just as you manage to get there your legs give out and you’re sent tumbling backwards down the rapid. 

It’s not unlike being trapped in a giant washing machine on spin, on a rollercoaster, in an earthquake, but somehow in a good way. 

On the third go, I manage to get it with the help of one of the experienced guides who hauls me into position. He leaves me on the wave, water rushing beneath the board. I’m stationary for about 30 seconds facing upstream. 

I can’t work out the fluid dynamics of how it’s possible with so much water surging downstream but it’s incredibly fun. I try about five more times, each followed by a tiring paddle upstream in an eddy, but never really get it again for more than a few seconds. We coast on down river afterwards, which adds a healthy dose of serenity to the sunny afternoon. 

Then the fear and knot of anticipation in my stomach returns for the big one – 100 metres of ferocious class four before 700m of class three. This one feels more about surviving than surfing. 

Again the fear disappears with the immediate adrenalin rush – driven by the powerful, churning white-water, gripping on to the board trying to catch a breath between torrents of water hitting my face. 

Exhausted and elated we all exit safely after a full range of emotions in two-and-a-half hours of fear and fun.