Zambezi River, Zimbabwe: a landlocked country with a barreling river wave | Photo: Bradford Archive

Zimbabwe might be a landlocked country, but there's actually a very good wave for surfing here.

My name is Sam Bradford. I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe.

I work half a year as a rope-access wind turbine blade technician in the UK and spend the other half raft-guiding and kayaking in Zimbabwe.

I started practicing water sports in the Zambezi River when I was really young.

My early years were spent in Victoria Falls during the pioneering days of white-water rafting, kayaking, and other adrenaline-filled activities.

My dad taught me to kayak at the age of 11, as he used to be a raft guide and kayaker in his day. I have always been obsessed with the Zambezi River.

That was when I experienced my first nerve-wracking roll in the Zambezi, earning the nickname "Sambezi."

Victoria Falls: one of the world's largest waterfalls | Photo: Bradford Archive

A River Wave in a Landlocked Country

Surfing in the Zambezi River is not popular at all. There are only two other guys that surf every now and then.

Most times, I'm the only one out there. A few people have come to surf Rapid #11, but only sometimes.

Most of my friends have regular jobs, so they're only free to surf on the weekends.

It also depends a lot on water levels, as the two waves available work at different times of the year.

Interestingly, I have only surfed in the ocean a handful of times.

I also wakeboard and snowboard so I managed to pick up surfing quite quickly. But I've been mainly river surfing.

The Zambezi River wave is very unique.

There are two waves that you can surf on the Zambezi: Rapid #2 and Rapid #11.

Sam Bradford: the most experienced surfer at Zambezi's River Rapid #11 and #2 | Photo: Bradford

Rapid #11: The Crown Jewel

Rapid #2 is a pretty small wave that works only in low water from August to December.

Rapid #11 is the curling wave, which is much more intense and is located in Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls National Park.

It works in high water for a week in February when the water rises and a week in August when it drops.

But it depends - every year is different.

It requires a big paddle to enter, and it's obviously a superpowerful wave with very strong currents and whirlpools afterward.

Getting back to the side can also be very difficult. The board often gets ripped from under you when paddling through the currents. 

It's a really hard river wave.

The river's flow and power are intense, and the whirlpools and knowing there are crocodiles make it challenging.

That's why it is better not to think too much about it.

I seem to effortlessly get in the wave and manage the powerful stream because I grew up kayaking the Zambezi and am very comfortable above and underwater.

I know the river like the back of my hand.

Nevertheless, I have had some pretty intense downtime on a board. Nothing too serious, though.

While kayaking, on the other hand, I have had some pretty close calls.

Competitive Surfing in the Zambezi River

For instance, in 2022, I got sucked under for 45 seconds, snapped the paddle, and the helmet got ripped off and popped up 40 meters downstream.

I have a few plans for the future.

I just received my kayaking and surfing license for my business, so I can now run commercial trips in the Zambezi.

I also plan to organize a surfing competition on the famous Rapid #11 wave starting in February 2025.

My job often keeps me suspended on ropes, working on wind turbine blades high above the ground.

It has taken me around the world, offshore, and to stunning rivers to kayak.

However, Africa remains in my heart, and I am always drawn back to the Zambezi, home of Zimbabwe river surfing.

Words by Sam Bradford | River surfer, kayaker, and wind turbine blade technician

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