A good friend’s keen recommendation of a white water rafting experience led us down winding, narrow rural roads in search of a service provider.
The rustic kampung scene off Gopeng was quiet in the morning. We cruised along rubber trees, free range chickens and scattered houses for at least 15 minutes, having only our navigator apps to trust, to get to Riverbug Perak’s base office. Our mission today was white water rafting along Sungai Kampar, which is rated Grade Three on rafting standards, depicting an intermediate class of river stability suitable for inexperienced challengers.
White water rafting got its name from the churning white, foamy water created when the river flows rapidly and cascades over obstacles like boulders. Having been a recreational sport since the mid-1900s, white water rafting is a popular activity today and can be found in various locations across Malaysia. It usually involves an inflatable raft made of strong rubber, four to eight passengers including a guide, paddles and safety helmets.
We were brought from the base office, which is located at the end point of our rafting journey, to a storehouse near the starting point via the service provider’s van. We were handed life vests, helmets, paddles and were briefed on how to manage the raft. Our guide, Gantz, who originated from Sabah, did a thorough demonstration in English, Malay and some funny-accented Mandarin to cater to the 10+ challengers his company was managing. We were shown the proper ways to sit on a raft to maximise our stability, techniques to lock our feet and hold our paddles, positions to take when we are met with rapid flows over rocks, ways to nudge the raft if we get stuck and actions to take in the event of a capsize. It was done very professionally as safety was an utmost priority.
My party of three plus Gantz took off after the briefing by carrying our raft to the river, which was some 100m away from the storehouse. Gantz had staged a capsize for us for training (and fun) purposes at the very beginning of our rafting journey, which was an absolute blast. Getting thrown into a fast-flowing river due to imbalanced weights on a raft could be frequent during the journey, and while it was a good practice for us, we loved it and requested for more staged capsizes along the way. Don’t worry, they were all done in safe conditions and our life vests played a huge role in keeping us alive too.
Having not done water rafting before, it had always occurred to me as an intense sport which is not only expensive but also dangerous and physically demanding. However, the experience was unlike what I had expected! Gantz was super experienced and would take extra caution when we approached boulders. The entire rafting journey was safe and exciting, providing us a mixed experience consisting of both the adrenaline rush of a roller coaster ride and the relaxing ambience of a cruise. We did not even have to paddle most of the trip as the river would carry us.
The best part of the adventure was to enjoy the gorgeous river scenery of unpolluted water running through banks of unbothered trees. Our route was far away from urbanisation and development, and we could fully immerse ourselves in the purest forms of our local nature. In fact, such places are otherwise inaccessible if not through the river. What a blessing! Who knew water rafting could be such a beautiful experience. We even took a swim somewhere along the way where the river ran slower and wider.
As your resident curious journalist, I did not just slack during the break too- my team chatted with Gantz to learn more about his experience as a rafting instructor. With 13 years of experience in rafting, Gantz now takes bookings seven days a week! He was a free-lancer in the industry back in Sabah, but decided to seek better monetary and personal developmental opportunities here in Peninsular Malaysia about a year ago. Now, he is attached to Riverbug as a full-time guide.
In fact, the company also offers experiences in Sabah, one of which is at Sungai Padas, a Grade Four man-made river known for white water rafting. This explains why it hires a lot of Sabahans as crew, especially since many of them are well-trained for the job there.
We learned that white water rafting is highly weather-dependent and this means risk assessments become extremely important when rain adds to the river volume. Yet, in contrast to common belief where rainy reasons are not suitable for rafting, thrill seekers prefer them for enhanced excitement.
Another guide we spoke to even shared with us that he recently dislocated a finger due to brute force when he was thrown off his raft. Not wanting to spend on medical expenses, he ‘fixed’ his finger back on his own! He showed us the injured finger and we thought it looked pretty healthy, moving just as normal as one should. I wonder if this reflects the mentality of some parts of our community where professional medical aid is dreaded over its perceived inconveniences (high costs for private avenues and long waiting time for public healthcare service providers; inaccessibility since their workplace is deep in the rural areas).
All in all, white water rafting down Sungai Kampar was an incredible experience. It showed me that white water rafting is an amazing avenue of thrill with immersive elements of nature. Will I do it again? Yes! Sungai Padas in Sabah, let’s go!
By, Euan Thum, Journalist, Charisma Movement 22/23