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2019 Tana River Festival

2019 Tana River Festival

This year, Kenya has been suffering through a drought. With water shortages in Nairobi, rural farmers unable to grow crops and little food for livestock. Meteorologists were predicting that the 2019 long rains would skip Kenya, causing a humanitarian crisis.

Tana River Festival organizers were concerned the event would not be possible on the original dates so the decision was made to push the event back by two weeks.

And then it rained! The surrounding areas turned from a dry and dusty yellow color to a bright healthy green and River levels quickly rose to bank full, which made the competition a lot more challenging. Wrong line choice or an errant boil could cost you the race on what was now a big volume, technical and brown African stout!

For the first time in 2019, the festival included advance and intermediate kayaking groups, as well as an MTB enduro event making its second appearance alongside the BMX air ramp into the River An triathlon consisting of an MTB ride, Ducky paddle and a run also made its debut.


A great mix of Nationalities was present. Kenyan and Ugandan paddlers went as hard as the Australians and British, proving that kayaking in East Africa is not the domain of purely foreign kayakers.

A big thanks must be given to Sam Ward, owner of Kayak the Nile, for bringing ‘Team Uganda’ across to the event. Special mention to Owen a 16-year-old Ugandan safety kayaker on the Nile, who had never left Uganda and came to compete in his first overseas competition.

The first event this year was the endurance race which consisted of a 8km paddle of the main commercially rafted section of the Tana River with ‘any line goes’ rules. One of the choices is the classic 8m waterfall known as ‘The Mission’ (luckily no one landed on top each other… on that drop)!

Kayakers needed to make good line choices in the full, fast and boil filled rapids and push there paddling on the flat sections not to lose position.

Overnight the Sagana region received heavy rains and the next morning the river was even higher making the slalom course and Boater X events filled with their fair share of carnage, though everyone came through unscathed. Small mistakes could cost you the race. The slalom course had big moves, with gates above chunky holes. With his big water pedigree honed on the Nile, Sam Ward got the quickest time down the course.

Boater X consisted of two heats with two paddlers from each group moving through to the final. Paddlers fought hard for the lead and to get clean and fast lines through all the rapids.

One paddler had a 20m lead in his group, but wrong line choice pushed him to last place.

The final consisted of Sam, Sammy, Kepha, David Moore, Musa, and Sadat.

Lots of carnage went down on the last class IV. A tricky exit move protected by a boil saw Sammy and Sam get worked in the ‘Baby Fish Eye’ hole after going over the drop backward and upside down…

Great for the spectators not too great for the paddlers as it completely changed the results. Well done to Sammy Muturi for winning the ‘Boater X’ final.’

The final River event was ‘The Mission’ showdown over the 8m high waterfall. Paddlers had to show their best moves off the waterfall. Team Uganda were going hard with reverse freewheels and a special mention to Sadat for attempting a Cobra flip: some courage in attempting that!

Another shout out to Moses Kaniaru for being the only intermediate taking part in the waterfall competition.  

One of the aims this year was to increase paddle sports participants in the event, and ultimately in Kenya as a result. Intermediate kayakers took part in the slalom and endurance competitions and it was fantastic to see these upcoming paddlers taking part in the festival.

The advance teams were shadowing and on standby for rescues, plus giving encouragement when needed, proving you don’t need to be a class V kayaker to participate!

Next year event will take place on the 30th April - 3rd of May 2020

A big thanks must go to Immersion Research for sponsoring the event with great prizes!



 Advance Kayakers


  1. Sam Ward (Uganda)
  2. Sammy Muturi (Kenya)
  3. David Moore (Uganda)

 Intermediates Kayakers  


  1. Moses Kaniaru (Kenya)
  2. Alfred Maina Wanjiru (Kenya)
  3. Elijah Wamwea Kamunyu (Kenya)



  1. Amina Tayona (Uganda)


Savage Wilderness, Infinity Outdoors, Immersion Research, Palm Equipment, USN – Ultimate Sports Nutrition, Bike Shop Kenya

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