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South African surfing legend and Mavericks Big Wave Winner, Chris Bertish, recently teamed up with a group of very brave individuals to Stand Up Paddle Board down the Okavango Delta as part of a new Stand Up Paddle Boarding Tour to be offered to the public.

(TRAVPR.COM) SOUTH AFRICA - April 14th, 2015 - On the 15th of March 2015, a small group of intrepid adventurers and paddlers set off from Cape Town in high spirits and armed with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. Our destination: a little-known former hunting concession area deep inside Botswana's Okavango Delta. Our mission:  to be the first people to explore the far regions of the famous Delta by Stand Up Paddleboard.

There were eight of us on the plane to Maun - four women and four men. A few had only done a small amount of paddling in the past, but were still game to come on this pioneering expedition. They weren't exactly put at ease by the inflight magazine story by a journalist who narrowly avoided being attacked by an angry Hippopotamus in the region! 

After arrival in Maun we were collected by Andrew Harkness, who would be our head guide. Having guided in the delta for 11 years, he shared some tips and inside knowledge during the three-hour, 4x4 journey to our Delta base camp, from where the adventure would all begin.  We spotted almost all of the big 5 before we even reached the drop off point, but little did we know that the adventure would start before the expedition was officially underway.

We thought we would be driven right to the camp. Wrong. The vehicle stopped just short of the Delta river basin, where we unloaded our gear and inflatable boards. Andrew introduced us to Wako, a local Botswana makoro (traditional wooden river canoe) guide. Waco went ahead by makoro to drop off the rest of the gear and equipment at the camp, while we stayed at the vehicle to unload the rest of the gear for the second load. 

While unloading our personal items, a large male elephant appeared from the undergrowth directly across the river from us.  It seemed we were blocking his favourite route across the water. We all jumped back into the safety of the 4x4, waiting with baited breath as the large bull paced along the water's edge deciding whether to cross over towards us or not …

Luckily the return of the mokoro’s spooked the bull, and he retreated into the undergrowth. We all breathed a sigh of relief. It was a pretty tense moment, and our real trip hadn't even begun.

The eight person team, consisting of some very experienced paddlers and Adventurers and four other local Mokoro guide’s, led by local ‘Waco’ Ngwananoka, who helped set up the SUPs, loaded up into the mokoro’s and headed out and around an island to the basecamp a few hundred meters away. We had to skirt an area with two large hippos, who were a little perturbed as we slid by, judging by their discontented snorts and grunts.

We arrived at the basecamp as the sun set, to the warm welcome of five local makoro guides and eight dome tents on the river's edge. They were rustic, simple but comfortable, and just what we needed before setting off the following morning into the wild. 

At sunup, we loaded our personal gear onto our individual inflatable SUPs, strapped on using waterproof dry bags. The rest would be carried by the local mokoros following on.

It didn't take long to realise we were in the wilderness and very exposed, as we paddled along the side of the river banks and peered into the heavily reeded undergrowth of the Delta tributaries. We passed more hippos, a water snake, some elephants, a pair of fish eagles, a herd of waterbuck and numerous giraffe, before stopping in a shallow pool for a lunch break.

It was just after midday and we needed to get out of the sweltering sun. We clocked the temperature at 39 degrees in the shade. We waited until 3pm before heading off again. The meandering tributaries went from 40m wide waterways to tunnel like streams less than a meter wide, which would barely let us through. The Delta changed around us with every turn, and there was a new surprise around every bend.  The beauty was unfathomable, the tranquillity only matched by the fiery colours that greeted us in the evening sky as we pulled in to a new place to set up camp. Having paddled over 12km, we were keen to set up base before the sun went down.  But we were stopped by a massive tusked male elephant who would not budge! 

The guides finally persuaded the huge beast to move off, and we quickly set up our overnight camp, lit a big fire to braai our dinner, and shared some drinks and stories around the campfire, until the exhaustion of the day's paddling got the better of us. One by one, we headed off to sleep to the sounds of the wild outdoors, to lions roaring and hyenas calling through the night, and baboons warning of the predators that lurked in the shadows while we were sleeping.

The warmth of the morning sun woke us for our second, and last, day on the water. After a quick breakfast and coffee from the fire, we broke down our camp, packed up and headed out to see what the deeper Delta had in store for us before we headed back that evening.

With the water levels in the Delta the lowest they had been the entire year, some areas become very tight and difficult to paddle through. Some channels were so narrow we could barely fit through, whether on SUP or makoro. We couldn't always see what was around us, but the high reeds and thickets created great little secluded pools for safe rest stops. Too shallow for hippos and crocs to enter, the pools were perfect places to unwind, rehydrate and snack, before continuing on again.  

We stopped under some vultures circling over a dead buffalo, and had to be re-routed when our main tributary was blocked by six very unhappy hippos. They may be cute to look at from afar, but people forget that the hippo is considered one of the most dangerous animals in the African wilds. For safety reasons we decided not to even attempt skirting them, and found an alternative route back to our main basecamp. We arrived late that afternoon – but not before we all got a little adrenalin flowing as the lead safety Mokoro bought us to a silent stand still to let a large hippo came through the tall undergrowth and scuttled up the bank to get out our way and to see who had disturbed his late afternoon grazing time. It timely reminder why safety on a trip like this was paramount and the need for an experienced mokoro guides and Andrew.

We unloaded all our gear and stored our stuff in the tents before setting off on foot into the deep undergrowth in search of early evening game, led by “Wako’ local lead Botswana tracker and Andrew, with his riffle at the ready.

We were treated to very close encounters with giraffe, buffalo, zebra, warthogs, monkeys and various antelope, before heading back to the safety of the fire and basecamp. As the sun set over the Delta and another magical day, we were surrounded by the most amazing evening sky, and serenaded by all the birds beetles and beasts bustling around in the twilight, before night set in and the predators come out to prey.

That evening we set out the campfire stories, alive with passion and excitement as everyone recounted the day's highlights, and shared epic adventure stories from previous expeditions and adventures.  We were treated to an amazing bushfire and a dinner of local dishes from the bush oven, with plenty of beer and wine. A group of waterbuck came roaming through the camp, and a Pel's fishing owl – one of the rarest of all owls –perched above us in the tree, watching us all get slower and sleepier. It had been another incredible day, but eventually we all had to turn in for the night.

The following morning we packed up our gear and had a hearty breakfast, before heading back over to the mainland. We had another amazing game drive back out of the Delta, and got to Maun with time to jump into the pool at the lodge, clean up, catch up on emails, and have a well deserved cold beer and good night's sleep before flying out in the morning. We all agreed it was a job well done ; we were all still alive, all legs and arms still attached, and we had successfully explored an area of the Delta that had never been paddled by Stand Up Paddleboard before.

It was a bold expedition with adventure as the theme, pioneering an area never Stand-Up Paddled before. We all learnt a great deal, we experienced a whole new world and got to be completely out in the wild, alone, in a very remote part of nature, propelled by our own efforts and without polluting the Delta with engine noise or petrol fumes.

We experienced something that most people will never have the good fortune of seeing. Connecting with nature, in its most raw and primal state, is a humbling experience. To do it with a group of people from normal working life, not expert sports people or paddlers, proved that an experience like this can change your world, your thoughts, your expectations your possible!  

If they can push their comfort zones and take on the challenge, escape, explore and have an amazing new adventure, doesn’t it make you think you could too? 

Remove the words 'can't' and 'impossible' from your world and it's amazing what you’ll be able to do. Think of the things you’ll see, the people you’ll meet, the places you’ll go... It all starts with a choice, then a challenge to yourself, to say 'can', instead of 'can't'!

A big thanks to Andrew Ingram from Escape + Explore.

Writen by Chris Bertish

Who is Chris Bertish?

According to Chris – he is just an ordinary guy, but when you realise what he has accomplished in the past 2 decades is more than most people could accomplish in two lifetimes. 

Chris’s love of the sea and all things water has seen him take some of the biggest titles and accolades in this sporting sphere in the last 14 years, with some of them being Winning the Mavericks Big Wave Invitational title in the beiggest surf in history and the more recent smashing of 3 World Records in under a year and winning the Adventurer of the year award for 2014.

Some of Chris’s other highlights include:

  • XXL Award – Biggest Wave Paddled in the World in 2000. Todos Santos
  • First person to paddle in at Jaws, Peahi, Hawaii 2001
  • Nellscott Big Wave Tow in event, Oregon, 5th place 2005
  • Red Bull Big Wave Africa, 3rd place 2007
  • Nellscott Big Wave event, Oregon, 3rd place 2009
  • First person to SUP Nellscott Reef, Oregon, 2009
  • Mavericks Big Wave Invitational, Half Moon Bay, California, Winner 2010, surfed in the biggest conditions that the contest has seen since its inception
  • Nellscott Big Wave event, Oregon, 2nd place 2010
  • First person to SUP Dungeons, 2010
  • First person to surf Seal Island, 2010
  • South African Surfing Awards: Pushing the Boundary Award, 2011
  • Big Wave World Tour, 3rd place finish 2011 (after only surfing 3 of 5 events)
  • Invite/Competitor – Eddie Aukia Big Wave Invitational, Hawaii 2012
  • SUP World Championships, Peru, 9th place Distance, Feb 2012
  • TEDx Sea Point, Guest Speaker, March 2012
  • First ever solo, unsupported, unassisted paddle 325km SUP: West Coast of South Africa, Jan 2013
  • SUP World Championships, Peru, 7th place Wave Riding, March 2013
  • Mavericks Big Wave Invitational – Half Moon Bay, California, 6th place March 2013
  • First ever Source-to-Sea Adventure: River Thames, England – Run 20km/Paddle 243km/Cycle 42km, Aug 2013
  • New English Channel World Record: SUP – 5:26:03, Sept 2013
  • Runner-up – Adventurer of the Year Award – Global SUP Awards in USA, October 2013
  • Open Ocean 12-Hour Guinness World Record – 130.1km/12 hours: SUP 17 Dec 2013
  • Nightjar People’s Choice- Adventurer of the Year award 2014 -May 2014

Chris applies all these trials, tribulations and joys into an inspiring and moving story. He travels all over the world inspiring audiences to believe that they too can achieve great things with the right Self-beliefFocus and Never give Attitude. It’s just a matter of choice. In addition to Chris’s global keynote addresses, to massive Corporates like Nedbank, Old Mutual, Spa Group & Southern Wines Group in the USA, he is also a past TEDx and FEAT guest speaker.

Chris has a motto that captures his attitude to both overcoming struggle and achievement. “Dream it, See it, Believe it, Achieve it.

It’s that simple and he has proven time and again that if you truly believe in something and you set your sights on that goal – no matter how big – if you work hard at it, stay focused, determined, resilient and never give up, you can achieve anything, as he sais

“Nothing is Impossible, unless you believe it to be…” Chris Bertish

For more info on Chris and booking him, please visit his website on:

For more info on Chris please visit You can also follow Chris on Facebook and Twitter. 


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