The idea was to stay as dry as possible. It was an overly ambitious plan as I stood by the bank of a gushing river, getting ready to try out white water rafting for the first time in my life.
I was at Sungai Sedim recreational forest (of the Tree Top Walk Sungai Sedim fame) in Kedah. As part of a media trip to the northern region last year with Tourism Malaysia, the itinerary included some water-based activities.
As with all adventure-based activities, there was some element of risk involved. All participants were given a thorough safety briefing and we were instructed to fasten our safety jacket, and put on a sturdy helmet.
Our team of instructors – comprising a group of young men from the village nearby – patiently explained standard safety procedures.
The briefing session (about 15 minutes long) covered topics such as paddling commands, paddling skills, river rescue, actions when you go overboard, as well as capsize drills.
Ah, yes, capsize drills.
This was exactly why about 10 minutes later, I stood on a cliff-like rock formation by the river bank, getting ready to jump into the water. This was part of the river rescue simulation before we started rafting down the river.
“Go ahead, just jump! The water feels very refreshing, ” an official from Tourism Malaysia encouragingly nudged on. Behind me, I could see some nervous participants moving to the back of the line, trying to delay their turn.
Oh well, so much for trying to stay dry. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and jumped feet-first into the river.
When I surface about a couple of seconds later – aided by the buoyancy of my safety vest – I quickly grasped the safety rope and down the stream I went.
After that so-called “rite of initiation”, we had to do the actual act of rafting itself. And oh boy, it was such a fun and exhilarating experience.
Paddling down Sungai Sedim on our tube, we encountered a host of thrilling situations. There were those crazy rapids and then there were moments of calm waters. My skilful guide tried to maximise the thrill by navigating through calm areas relatively quickly and on to the next rapid before we could catch our breath.
We were also required to paddle really fast. That was probably the overarching rule of rafting: Keep on paddling. Failure to do so may make navigation harder down the stream. So throughout the ride, I kept my ears out for commands from my guide.
Now, I must admit I’m not the most adventurous person out there. And neither am I the best swimmer. But I did not feel unsafe while rafting down the river that day.
That being said, the rapid that we tackled during the course of our excursion was between a level two and three. For the uninitiated, rapids are typically classified on a scale of one to six.
Class One rapids are defined by the slow current and waves. On the other end of the spectrum, Class Six rapids will take you on the ride of your life!
But regardless of how careful one is, there is the possibility of the tube overturning or someone going overboard. Fortunately for myself, I managed to stay tucked in throughout my first ride.
In the event that you do go overboard, though, it is important to stay calm and not panic (although, this is easier said than done!), look out for the safety rope and someone will haul you back to safety.
Another important takeaway from my first white water rafting experience is to leave your belongings on shore. Waterproof bags will keep your belongings dry, but the bag may get swept away by the current.
I would also recommend wearing quick-drying clothes to dry yourself faster and keep warm. Be sure to fasten your safety jacket and always keep the helmet on.
And last but not least, forget about staying dry throughout the ride.