While drifting down the River Nile on a sit-on-top kayak, Sam Ward who has traveled all over the world coaching and competing in freestyle kayaking tells Nomad why he decided to set roots in Jinja, Uganda.
How did you end up living in Jinja and running a kayaking business?
I grew up in Wales, UK. Having lived in a small town, when I turned 18 I was ready to get out of there. I traveled around a bit and came to Uganda on a two week kayaking holiday 14 years ago and it captured my heart; now I’ve even given up trying to leave. I have coached and kayaked in about 27 different countries, traveling to about 40 over my lifetime. Within Africa, my other favourite places include the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls, the latter being one of the seven wonders of the world. Uganda is however my favourite and is my home now. The people, river, lifestyle, climate, amazing white water…I just couldn’t believe this place existed. Kayaking is my specialty, and each year I leave to try and go do kayaking or different trips all over the world.
What’s it like competing in freestyle kayaking?
It’s a lot of traveling! I’ve been all over North & Central America, South East Asia, New Zealand and more. Freestyle kayaking is like gymnastics, but in the water. You do summersaults, flips and twists. It’s also a bit like freestyle skiing where the bigger, harder and more impressive the tricks, the more points you get. I went to Argentina for the last world championships, and that was the last big trip I was on. After I qualified my wife got pregnant and the due date was December 14th while the championships were in December 4th. That was cutting it really close and I didn’t want to miss either. It was however fine; the baby was born at 8:00am on Christmas day 2017, which was the best present ever.
What types of kayaking experiences do you specialise in?
Right now we’re floating on the Nile sipping a beer on a sit-on-top kayak which is one of the more relaxing types…it is very tranquil and accessible for anyone from 4 to 70 years old. We’re enjoying the birds, trees, watching the sunset and it’s all very gentle and calm. On the complete end of the spectrum, we also have a high adrenaline rollercoaster ride of your life on the white water. We teach people to tackle the white water on a one person kayak, but we also do tandem kayaking where you sit in front and a guide goes at the back. That allows you to experience the best of the white water on your first day- it’s a bit like skydiving… you wouldn’t want to jump out alone on your first day. We also have stand up paddle boards which are a great way of floating around, almost like you’re walking on water. It’s a great all round gentle workout. We also do that on the white water, but that’s mostly just silly and fun because you always fall in. It that happens, it’s very safe because you have your helmet and life jacket so you tumble down a rapid but 10 seconds later you’re in the pool at the bottom. Because a lot of other rivers aren’t as safe, it’s hard for them to do stand up paddleboarding on the white water.
What’s a typical day for you like in Jinja?
I’m the founder of Love it Live it, I bought Kayak The Nile six years ago, have established Nile SUP as its own company and now have a podcast on the side called Climate Change Unfolding about the environment and the things I see and experience here. I have a decent sized team helping with these. Yesterday, for instance, I went and paddled some of the grade 6 rapids with an old friend who happens to have been one of my very first clients that’s now grown to be an amazing world class kayaker. Today I’ve been working on my next podcast episode and tomorrow will be Sunday funday with the family. Monday will be meetings with the team, Tuesday admin and email…everyday is quite different.
What are your favourite things to do in Uganda?
I got married here, up in the Sipi falls which is absolutely breathtaking! I also have two things that I like to do to relax in Jinja. One is to go out on the water just drifting like we’re doing now, and the other is to chill out on a hammock. I have a special place in my heart for hammocks! One time, on our rest day, we made a metal frame with four poles and tied that to three SUP boards to make a hammock that can float on the Nile! We call it a SUP hammock. Because we quickly realised that it was tasking to keep going back up the hill to get more drinks, we got a cooler and tied that to a board. Now we have a board whose only job is to float next to the hammock while carrying the cooler, and that makes for a rather chill afternoon.