Although Hendri Coetzee’s death was almost 2 years ago, I have to admit I had never heard of him before last night. Mostly because I don't kayak or follow the sport, apart from every now again keeping tabs on an old school buddy, Steve Fisher, who has become one of the world's best kayakers. It was at Patagonia's Film night in Santa Monica that I was introduced to "Kadoma", the film about the last expedition Hendri took leading two American kayakers, Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic, on a 1200-mile journey down the ferocious and mostly uncharted Lukuga River in the Congo Basin.
It was on this trip, supposedly the last of Hendri’s illustrious career, that the South African was pulled under by a Crocodile on a flat part of the river, never to be seen again. At the time, it grabbed national headlines, but what was lost in the sensationalism surrounding his death was the story of the man himself. First and foremost, he was a true "waterman" in every way possible. His African friends called him Kadoma (also the name of the movie) for his bravery in the face of a river they fear and respect greatly. The name has slightly different meanings in different dialects, but generally translates as Kadoma: the little bee that travels and improves lives everywhere it goes.
What struck me hardest about the film and Hendri was the way that he lived his life. From kayaking solo through the densest populations of hippos and crocodiles found anywhere on the planet to walking nearly a thousand miles of Tanzanian coastline, he lived every day to the fullest. After more than a decade of exploring some of Africa’s deepest, darkest parts, he was and remains today an inspiration and a legend among men. He led a life you can do nothing but look up to. RIP!