Nile Freestyle Festival 2007

After 3 months working the Zambezi River, the need for change and the call of the Mighty White Nile and the Nile River Festival finally got the best of me. And so I spent the whole of my birthday in the air, with Becky Larr and others, abusing the drinks trolley.

When I arrived the day before the festival, and was talked into participation, I knew that I would be very delicate come Monday morning.

And so it began, on Friday 30th November, The Nile River Festival 2007 kicked off with a day of Freestyle on the Nile Special wave. With 60 world class competitors from around the world, it was an extraordinary spectacle to be a part of.

Sam Ward at Nile Freestyle 2nd place
Sam Ward throwing a massive air screw

Competitors are scored on their 3 highest scoring moves or combos; a system that encourages competitors to go big or go home!

Sam Ward, a Nile Special veteran at the forefront of modern playboating, was throwing moves and combos that many in the crowd struggled to comprehend!

Max Bilbow Nile Freestyle Festival
Max Bilbow in the freestyle competition

It was a close final with less thin half a point between 1st and 2nd place in the mens’ category; Sam Ward and Steve Fisher again.

Bujagali falls

Saturday saw many paddlers face their biggest fear… Or at least I did anyway. Remembering stories of Sam Ward and Will Clark’s victory last year in the extreme endurance race, I remember thinking: Never. Not in a million years would you ever catch me participating in such blatant self-torture!

And yet there I was, teamed up with Pas Blackwell, at the start of a 45 kilometer from the source of the Nile to the Hairy Lemon; a stretch containing many tricky rapids and A LOT of flat water to negotiate.

I decided that I would be happy to finish in good health and I was certainly stoked to finish in 3 hours and 13 minutes and gain a point in 10th place.

Sunday morning and tensions were growing. The excitement of the Nile Boda-Cross was growing for all competitors.

A Boda-Cross is very much like a Boater-Cross (which is like a Motor-Cross but with boats – in this case: kayaks). However the Nile Boda-Cross differs in that, in addition to 60 kayakers sprinting down a short section of big volume class 4/5 rapids, the race then continues, back to the start, on the back of a boda-boda (see below). As if that wasn’t enough, competitors and their boda drivers must then complete a soapy wet obstacle course, made entirely of rafts, and then down a funnel of beer (or soda for those who may be Tea-Total).

Unlike last year, the overall competition winner has to do well in all three events. This means that everyone who competed in the first two events must perform well in this final atrocity if they are to secure victory. With $2000 at stake it was sure to be an exciting race.

The race was close and many competitors won and lost on the back of their bodas. It can be hard to choose a boda that isn’t going to break down or crash and a couple of 1st place favourites succumbed to such a fait.

However nothing is quite as good as that Nile Special beer rushing towards your stomach and signifying the climactic end to three day of physical endurance. The party has begun!

The overall winners (I think) – women (above):

  1. Prossie (Uganda)
  2. Morgan (US)
  3. Anna (US)


  1. Jooma (Uganda)
  2. Sam Ward (UK) and Lachie Carracher (Australia)
  3. Anton (Sweden)

Max Bilbow and Sam Ward
Max Bilbow and Sam Ward, enjoying NRE lifestyle

By nightfall the party is already in full swing and the bar behind the legend – The Nile River Explorers Bar – is beginning to live up to all expectations.

Without going into too much detail, it is needless to say the things escalated as usual… Amazingly daring feats were pulled of as usual…

And someone may have eaten a rat. But it’s not al that interesting so I won’t mention it any further.

Nile Freestyle Festival 2007 competitors group photo

Hopefully i will have the stomach and sheer strength of will to return next year. And I advise any of you to do the same!

As for me: I’m full time video boating for NRE (Nile River Explorers) and thinking of extending my stay. So see you in the spring maybe!

Big thanks to Will Clark for the lend of his photos and Kayak the Nile for organizing the event.

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