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In Focus: Whitewater Rafting with Red Bull Zero

When I got an email about doing a series of extreme sports as part of the Red Bull Zero series, to celebrate the launch of Red Bull Zero (the new zero calorie, zero sugar energy drink), I appropriately had Zero hesitation. I pretty much instantly signed myself up for whitewater rafting, fired back the email and got on with my day. That’s how, just a few short weeks later, I somehow found myself trapped underneath an inflatable boat in the Olympic whitewater rafting arena. But it wasn’t all bad…

For the uninitiated, whitewater rafting in the Olympic arena is a joyous affair. The course is a huge stone-lined halfpipe, with falls and artificial blocks at various intervals to create rapids, which is then filled with a number of hugely powerful hydraulic pumps. After squeezing myself into a wetsuit, a lengthy (but necessary) safety briefing, an obligatory swig of Red Bull Zero, and chucking ourselves into the ice cold water – sadly it’s not heated – we were off.

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Rowing on the flat is easy, just dig and pull, and as we moved away from the landing stage, our fantastic instructor Max gave us a few instructions about how to stay in the boat. By tucking your feet under the straps in front of you, and balancing on the edge (as well as pulling yourself into the boat and hitting the deck when he shouts), you’re pretty likely to stay on board. As we rise up to the start of course on a sort of boat escalator, I once again think ‘what on earth am I doing?’, and then with a hilarious chuckle, get on with the task in hand.

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The first run is a tester. We dig in and shoot towards the first set of rapids, immediately getting caught in the current and splashing our way down the course, with plenty of full-in-the-face soakings. With no time to worry about getting wet, Max is shouting instructions as we career down the falls towards a rapid about halfway down called ‘Jaws’. We crash around on the waves, each of us digging in and giving it everything while simultaneously getting splashed, whooping with adrenaline. We approach Jaws at speed and tuck inside, practically freefalling down before a rolling torrent engulfs the front of the boat. Thwoosh, burble, breathe, a shake of the head and then we’re onto the final stretch where it’s more about boat control than massive falls, and then we’re through. As we coast down the bottom there’s that delicious surge of adrenaline which keeps addicts coming back. Then a release: the sun beats down and we all grin from ear-to-ear, looking around with expressions of glee.

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Clearly another run is on the cards. As we ascend the escalator, Max asks if we want to go a bit harder, and jump to the more fun stuff. Obviously, we all agree – this is hilariously fun! We shoot towards and over the first set of rapids, Max expertly steering us back into the smallish water torrent sideways, guiding the raft with a series of directions, then he shouts for us all to hit the left side and we rush over, grabbing the ropes on the edge of the raft. The transfer of weight balances the boat, and we rock gently, surfing on the wave. It’s exhilerating and amazing, even without my glasses I can see the grins of the safety crew from the side. Max guides the raft around once more, this time with the front of the boat first. He shouts instructions, but we’re not quick enough and the toppling water cascades into the front of the boat, in an instant I tumble into the waves, whipped around in the surging underwater chaos, I remember Max’s advice on falling in that you should open your eyes and if you end up under the boat to keep moving because eventually you’ll find an edge so I open my eyes to darkness while my mind swirls as I hold my breath and continue to scrabble across the underside of the boat eventually popping up, with a massive intake of breath. Remembering to put my legs downstream and sit in the water, one of the safety crew chucks me a lifeline and I cling on, pulling myself to the calmer waters at the edge where, seal-like, I clamber myself up onto the edge and beach myself, sputtering.

 

Adrenaline guides me on and I know that the best thing to do is to get back into the raft, however contradictory this feels, and get on with it. After a pause, with everyone checking to see that the both of us that fell in are AOK, we continue down the course, coasting down to the bottom, and I decide that that’s enough for me.

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I jump out at the next round of the boat escalator, observing as the photographer takes my place and everyone has looks of joy/terror on their faces. From the side and with my glasses back on my face, even Jaws looks tame (it’s probably only about a 6 foot fall), but you get a real sense of just how much fun can be had. I find myself laughing along with the guys on the raft as they surf down the course, facing the waves head-on and getting soaked all over again.

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The great thing about whitewater rafting is that, like most extreme sports, it’s a singular activity; you completely forget about anything else – emails, what you’re having for dinner, who tweeted you earlier – and just get on with it. And that’s what these things are all about. Would I go back and do it all again? For sure. In fact I’ve already booked.

- Seb Law

 



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