In 2016, Kev became the first person to SUP Sri Lanka's longest river, The Mahaweli from source to sea. Here's a blog from one of his days.
I awoke at 4.45am feeling wide awake, although it was still dark I thought 'I'm going to get up and get moving!'. I fell back asleep. Next thing I knew it was 6.30am and I didn't feel so wide awake. I was sorry to leave this camp spot and knew I'd be hard pushed to find another anywhere near as good. The shallow beach landing, shady trees, plentiful wood supply and gorgeous view. As I began paddling, I felt for the first time like I was truly isolated. Miles from any kind of civilisation, wild jungle on either side of me. Blue flashes streaked up and down the banks as kingfishers searched for prey. Tree tops crashed with the sound of monkeys leaping from branch to branch. All manner of insects chirped, buzzed and clicked. But for all the noises around me, there was an eerie silence upon on the river.
Mild rapids followed and on the approach to one I saw another crocodile-head-shaped rock directly in my path. But this one was moving across the current. Just as I realised there was actually a crocodile only ten metres in front of me, its head sank below the surface without so much as a ripple. I estimated the head to be nearly the width of my board, two and a half feet. My heart began exploding in my chest, could I go left? Could I go right? No, I had to paddle straight over the top of it. I put my paddle blade deeply and powerfully into the water, wanting maximum speed and minimum splash. My eyes darted at the water around my feet as I moved over the spot at which it sank. Gripped with fear I was alert and ready. My attention was quickly diverted as I had a fast, rocky rapid to negotiate.
For the next hour I was fully on-edge. The squawk of a bird would make me jump. As I was beginning to settle, I heard a huge thrash and splash twenty metres to my left. As quick as I could turn my head, it was gone. There was nothing else it could be. No other animal was big enough to make a splash like that. Where was it? All I could think was 'it's coming for me, it's coming for me'. I was telling myself that it must be scared of me, that's why it dived into the water. If it wanted to attack me, it would stay hidden. My eyes scanned left to right steadily and constantly. I was inspecting every rock I could see. Just as my nerves began to settle, another big splash. Their camouflage was just too good. Croc rocks and logodiles everywhere, but I couldn't see an actual crocodile before it saw me.
The river widened and rocks rose out of the water like an imposing labyrinth. I stood on tiptoes trying to spot a route through as the current began to pick up. I chose the best exit point into the main channel of the river two hundred metres down and would visually trace a path back towards me, solving the maze. My eyes had become accustomed to recognising shallow and deep water from distance so I could weave my way through these rapids without dropping to my knees.
As I exited into the main channel, I spotted two figures crouched on the right hand bank and another wading thigh deep throwing a net. He would slowly creep four or five steps before casting the net into a perfect circle. I was surprised to see anyone out here as there was nothing for miles around on the map. I paddled over and greeted them. They knew no English so I asked them one of the three words I knew "Kimbula?" They gestured that there were no crocodiles here, but there were on the other side of the river. I was impressed by their confidence to wade in this water knowing they were less than a hundred metres away.
I came to a point where the river split in two to create an island two kilometres long and a kilometre wide. I decided to take the inside right hand route which appeared to have more water on google satellite. Even if it did, it soon became very shallow. My fin bumped on the rocks making me wince. Towards the end of a shallow chain of rocks the current picked up into a short, powerful rapid. Its noise had been drowned out with all the small whitewater around me and I was taken into the fast flow. There was a loud bang on the fin and I sighed, dropping my shoulders. The nose of the board twisted around ninety degrees and I drifted sideways along the river. I was without a fin once again. Less speed and less control the day I enter crocodile country.
The realisation of having no fin and no replacement didn't impact on me as much as last time. I knew I could handle the board and make slower progress. It just required a lot of concentration and effort without taking a break. I heard some branches crackle on the left bank and I saw a dark body slide into the water. It stayed on the surface just long enough for me to see my first full crocodile. Only six or seven feet long, it sunk silently into the murky water. Now I could see it, and the fact that it wasn't as big as I'd imagined the others to be, the fear was much less. The mystery of not knowing what just made that noise or what was beneath me was much more terrifying.
I could see a large sand bar a kilometre or two up ahead and decided that would be my camp for the night. I paddled my SUP into the corner where the sand met the jungle and dragged the nose ashore. I went for a stroll down the sand to search for two suitably spaced trees for my hammock. The first thing I noticed were large circular prints in the sand, eighteen inches in diameter. Unmistakable elephant tracks. These went between the water and jungle at regular intervals creating wide trails. I'd heard elephants come to the river in the evening so I needed to get a fire burning quickly. Wild elephants are extremely dangerous.
Luckily there was dry wood everywhere and within thirty minutes I had a large fire burning with some hefty, thigh-thick logs to throw on throughout the night. I went back to the river bank and dragged my board into the bushes. I hung my hammock between two trees which had a huge dead log along the back of it, blocking the path for any elephants that may pass through. I imagined them batting me around in my hammock with their trunk like a punchbag.
I balanced my metal pot full of noodles, carrots and tinned mackerel on two burning logs, watching it gently bubble. As the mixture thickened, I removed the pot using a wad of leaves as an oven glove. The sun had just set behind the trees as I spooned my third mouthful into my face, noodles hanging from my mouth. I looked into the distance down the river and saw a queue of grey figures slowly moving across the river. "Elephants!" I shouted. I ran to the waters edge, as close as I could get. I was still around a kilometre away as I watched them majestically stroll across the river in single file. I counted eight, seven adults and a small one towards the back. My camera couldn't quite capture them so I just stood there as the light faded watching them disappear into the jungle on the opposite bank. A truly magical experience.
I returned to my noodle dinner and thought 'they're now on my side of the river, I could be seeing them later.' And with that, I flicked my head torch on and went in search of more wood. With a huge pile stacked up, my belly full and mosquitoes on the hunt for blood, I retired to my hammock. I seemed to instinctively wake every two hours as the fire had reduced to embers so I could climb out and rekindle. This happened until 1am when I fell into a deep sleep, not to awake until morning.