A team of Wet Planet guides, both past and present, have embarked on a journey to Africa for the winter. Tyler Houck, David Wells, Trevor Sheehan, and friend Sean Eddington are exploring remote regions of southern Africa, focusing primarily on the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. They are discovering new stretches of river on first descents, gathering water samples for a global micro plastic study, and documenting the adventure. They are also doing a lot of hiking through mountains with kayaks on their backs, building excellent shelters out of tarps, and on the rare occasion that they can find internet, sharing their stories and expertise.
So you want to fly with your kayak?
You must ask yourself some questions when thinking about flying with kayaks. Are there kayaks where I am going, for purchase or rent? Often times many domestic and international locations have boats for hire and for purchase. Some kayaking and rafting companies will rent them, and often a deposit for the boat is required. Many places may charge more than you think is reasonable, yet one must take into account how difficult it is for them acquire their kayaks which are used for their company.
For example in Africa most kayaks are imported and a hefty customs duty is added to the already expensive shipping cost. It may not be in the best interest of the company to rent their boats to someone they do not know to paddle down a new stretch. It is a kayaking adventure after all, and anything can happen. One can usually buy a kayak abroad, yet prices outside the United States are often much more, and the style of kayak may not be the latest design. It is always worth researching on social media and retailers to figure out how feasible it is to get your boof on!
Research Airline Baggage Allowances
Okay, you are traveling to a remote area of the world and kayaks are not easy to get, and someone wants one thousand dollars for a welded boat. What is next? It is time to research the airlines baggage allowances and their restrictions on Sporting Equipment. Many airlines flat out ban kayaks. The word kayak becomes like Voldemort, it cannot be named. Ideally you already researched this before your ticket was purchased. If you did not, this is were deception and savviness is required in order to get your boat to that first descent on a jungle section somewhere downstream.
Surfboard and Skis
Many airlines take surfboard and skis. I personally have flown with “skis” and “surfboards” to Uganda, a landlocked country in East Africa. I was quite nervous because I was using a Jackson Kayak, with the word kayak plastered all over it. I opted to put it in a Salamander boat bag and a smile. It worked, but many times it does not! The term “surfski” or sit down surfboard have been used, even a surfboard for the handicapped. There are lots of techniques, but know you will have to think on your feet and are breaking the airline’s baggage rules.
Hendri Coetzee’s Strategies
When in doubt you should channel Hendri Coetzee as he negotiated the worlds most dangerous places. In his book Living The Best Ever he explains his technique of different strategies. Firstly try “apologetic ignorance ‘I am terribly sorry sir, I just didn’t know the procedure.'” If that does not work try flattery and then onto guilt. Nothing yet? Hendri tell us to then use humour and then anger , followed then by begging, confusion, and lastly religion. Best of luck if nothing works after you have played all your cards.
Call the airlines and give them a heads up
Ideally you researched before and the airline that does take oversize luggage and kayaks is who you booked with. You are not warm water ear dipping yet! About seven to ten days before the flight you must call the airlines and give them a heads up. Remember the name of who you spoke with at the regional headquarters. I often put all this information in my phone so I am ready for the hiccups. If they say great, make sure that they put this verbal contract information in your reservation notes, with the managers name. That way when you approach the lonely check in staff attendant, they are not surprised by your giant plastic “canoe.”
During the Summer Rains Tour we were only able to get two out of our three boats on the plane. Listen, kayaks are large and awkward and most folks don’t understand how amazing flowing in motion to the ocean is!
Good luck and enjoy the start of your paddling adventure!
Need a brush up on your paddling before taking it international? Join Wet Planet Kayak School’s creeking clinics or boof clinics this summer! Beginner kayak courses are also offered throughout the entire season.
Author David Wells is one of Wet Planet’s resident Mainers. He began his whitewater career on the Kennebec River, and was fortunate enough to paddle the Bujagali Falls section in Uganda shortly before the construction of Bujagali Dam. He returns to Africa during Winter seasons as often as possible. Currently he is traveling through Southern Africa as a part of the Summer Rains Tour. He is exploring rivers throughout Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho. You can check out the Summer Rains Tour following their adventures kayaking in Africa on Facebook: Summer Rains Tour and on Instagram: @Summer_Rains_Tour