Adventurers of the Year Tribute: Hendri Coetzee, Kayaking’s Underground Icon

Over the past few weeks, the kayaking community has come together to ask us to honor legendary paddler Hendri Coetzee in our Adventurers of the Year feature. Their voices were heard. This underground icon of the kayaking world captured the spirit of adventure on par with the world's greatest explorers. He will be greatly missed. Photograph by Darin McQuoid

The Kayaker
South African Hendri Coetzee—among the greatest expedition paddlers of his generation—kayaked the Nile from source to sea, twice, and undertook some of the longest and hardest waterways on Earth, often alone.

Until just a few months before his tragic death in December, it was very difficult to find much detail regarding the never ending adventure that was Hendrik “Hendri” Coetzee’s life. That’s just how the South African liked it: This is a man who told almost no one about his epic, record-breaking trip down the entire length of the longest river in the world, the Nile. But he also had friends, and a growing fan base. So Coetzee started a blog. As with everything he did, this was no half-hearted venture. Coetzee captured the excitement of his expeditions with wisdom and humor, his entries were insightful and heartfelt, and give us a glimpse into the mind of a true explorer.

His last trip, a first descent down the Ruzizi River, along the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, uncovered some of the steepest and largest volume whitewater in the continent. Just a few days in, Coetzee was euphoric:

“I thought I had been to most of the big gorges in Africa but it turns out only to the known ones. To find myself in something of that scale, almost unknown, was worth every drop of sweat, every public bus ride, every fly infested nowhere border town I have invested time in, ever. Dwarfed by lush green mountains rising up to 3,000 feet above us, we were drawn in ever deeper with a constant eye on the banks for trouble, by the river with every foot of is relentless gradient.

“To avoid detection from possible soldiers downstream, we took out at the last big rapid. An army of impromptu porters were eager to carry our boats out what seemed to me a challenging affair. ¾ up, the storm unleashed, dragging a curtain of water towards us through the warped valley. As hard, warm drops trashed at our little selves and a pair of goats,we stood precariously on a unknown slope deep in the heart of Africa, for once my mind and heart agreed, I would never live a better day.”—By Ryan Bradley


  1. abenk
    December 22, 2010, 10:20 pm

    it’s nice blog….. i like it..
    pleased to meet your blog…
    COME VISIT ME…OK…thank you very much

  2. New Era Hat
    December 22, 2010, 10:45 pm

    it’s nice blog….. i like it..

  3. bijuterii argint
    December 23, 2010, 5:24 am

    “the never ending adventure that was Hendrik “Hendri” Coetzee’s life” ..Goodbye Hendri!

  4. vote
    December 23, 2010, 2:47 pm

    So where can we vote?

  5. Temple of luxor
    December 24, 2010, 12:20 am

    A really cool and unique blog. The adventure are really amazing and would love to experience them myself. Sorry to hear that the amazing adventurer is no more with us.
    Thanks for the post.

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    January 5, 2011, 10:10 pm

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  8. Africa Safaris
    January 17, 2011, 2:55 pm

    Quite an interesting blog. I am impressed.

  9. Repossessed Cars
    January 18, 2011, 3:10 pm

    It just goes to show what we are capable of if we challenge ourselves and live life to the limits. Not sure if I would be brave enough for those waters though! 🙂

  10. cyntthia
    January 27, 2011, 10:45 am

    Does anybody know if there is still a memorial service for Hendri Coetzee 28 jan and where it will be….pls contact me on

  11. Calvin Klein
    July 21, 2011, 11:13 pm

    beautiful but dangerous travelling

  12. Jason
    August 2, 2011, 5:43 am

    It is a very nice and challenging sports, but I like it very much…

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    August 19, 2011, 3:29 pm

    wow thats really dangerous 🙂 nothing for me…

  14. Halong Bay Tours
    September 12, 2011, 12:49 pm

    Wow, who would have thought that you loved a sport so much that it was worth getting shot at.That takes real dedication.

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  16. Christian Fourie
    February 6, 2012, 3:11 am

    Here in Africa, we are blessed with a wilderness region around every corner. To live your passion as Henri did, that is what a few can do.

  17. Peter Ward
    February 6, 2012, 3:13 am

    I met Henri a few years ago. Sad to hear this newss

  18. Matt Larsen
    Alexandria, VA
    May 19, 2014, 6:32 am

    When I first arrived in Africa I knew I wanted to get on the rivers. I also knew Hippos and Crocodiles were something I needed to learn about. I did some research and found Hendri’s name and started trying to get hold of him. For the first couple of months I wrote and tried to call and just figured he was in the bush when I couldn’t reach him. Eventually I saw the first article about his fate. I am sorry I never got to meet him but he has non-the-less been an inspiration to me. I am still trying to live the best day ever.