Blind Kayaker Conquers The Zambezi River

When Lonnie Bedwell ran into Eric Jackson at a whitewater festival in West Virginia last September, he made a remark that months later would lead to a groundbreaking kayaking adventure. He told Jackson that he would like to run the Zambezi River, the fourth largest river in Africa and home to some of the world’s most challenging whitewater.

An opportunity to kayak the Zambezi River

Bedwell, a veteran and extreme sports athlete who lost his sight in a 1997 hunting accident, has kayaked many challenging rivers, including the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. His barrier-breaking pursuits earned him a 2015  National Geographic Adventurer of the Year nomination. A few months after his encounter with Jackson, Bedwell was skiing in Breckenridge when he was contacted by Steve Fisher and Jackson who were on the Zambezi filming the upcoming instructional feature Dreamline. Their message to Bedwell? If you can be in Africa in 12 days, we’ll do it.

Kayaking as teamwork

After making it to the Zambezi, Bedwell was guided by Jackson and Timmy O’Neill. O’Neill works to improve people’s lives through adaptive sports communities, and he and Bedwell had paddled together before. With Steve Fisher filming, the trio used verbal instructions to help Bedwell navigate the extremely technical features. Bedwell says the constant stream of verbal commands from his kayaking partners that help him are best when simple, clear and positive. For example, “three hard strokes” and “on me” are better than hearing “don’t go left.”

As one might expect on such an enormous river, there were a few tricky moments. At one rapid Bedwell became pinned against a wall, couldn’t roll, and after pushing his paddle against the wall got recycled. “It was a pretty intense moment,” he says. Another time his spray skirt imploded and he briefly ended up in a hole. 

Inspiring others through whitewater kayaking

He feels incredibly lucky to have gotten the opportunity to paddle such an impressive river with top-notch guides, and hopes others who see his feats in the outdoors are motivated. “You just really, truly hope it inspires others to think outside the box people put them in,” he says. In the future he will continue adventure seeking and hopes to go parachuting, climb Devil’s Tower National Monument and kayak more rivers around the world.

The 22-minute story of Bedwell’s journey down the Zambezi River can be seen on Outside Television

Read our Paddling Trip Guide to get ideas for your own epic river adventures.  


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here