Bundu Adventures, www.bunduadventures.co.za, and Zambezi Safari and Travel, www.zambezi.com, have added river boarding to the list of extreme sports on offer. Adrenaline junkies launch themselves 26 km down the Zambezi, through the winding basalt canyons of the Batoka Gorge, with no more than a wetsuit, helmet, lifejacket, fins and a body board with wrist leash. It's an irresistible challenge for river-boarding fanatics: a torrent of such force that it generates enough hydroelectricity to power both Zimbabwe and neighboring Zambia. Expert guides lead river boarders into violent Class IV and V rapids with dangerous drops and irregular currents and names like Stairway to Heaven and Oblivion; these waters are known to have flipped more inflatable rafts than any other rapids in the world. Then there's the wildlife: hippos' snouts break the surface of the water; baboon families clamber around at its edge and while only baby crocodiles survive the drop from the falls, they do grow up downstream.
American Richard Bangs, an international river explorer and award-winning author of Riding the Dragon's Back, about his first descent on China's Yangtze River, has led first river-boarding descents on 35 rivers worldwide. Bangs says that the rivers that cascade down such mountain ranges as the upward-thrusting Himalayas and Andes run rapidly continuously, leaving no room for human error. But the Zambezi gives boarders a chance to rest, "in that it has a beautifully designed sequence: a big rapid is almost always followed by a calm pool."
Bangs remembers the pioneering days of the late '70s when he struggled to convince expatriates and local hoteliers that the Zambezi was navigable: "It is hard to believe that the Zambezi has now become an adventure-sports Mecca." Livingstone might be surprised at the river's new activities, but no doubt he'd wholly approve of the spirit of adventure that informs them.