He Brought Perseverance By Ben Stookesberry

By Ben Stookesberry

Hendri was hard. It was tough to keep up with him. He would push for 12 hours of daylight, wake up first thing in the morning and keep going. He brought so much intelligence, maturity and strength. He brought perseverance.

His paddling was tailor-made from the Nile, the Congo—calm head, smooth paddling, good line selection, great boat strategy. He had that composed style that you need in big water, but he wasn’t there simply to challenge the hardest rapids. His paddling style was more about the entire expedition.

From the beginning, he told us that he does have this side of him that’s a soloist, that at times he’s antisocial. When he did the Nile source-to-sea, he wanted it to be just him and Pete, but the sponsors said take a doctor, take a kid, take a botanist. Over the course of four and a half to five months you can only imagine—it became a shit show. Whereas on this expedition you had Hendri, Chris and me, who are all at the top of our games and 100 percent committed. When you bring two type-A personalities, two leaders into a group, like Hendri and myself, there’s always going to be some friction. But on the river, we were in such a tight group, especially at Murchison where we were following Hendri’s every stroke. On the Ruzizi it was all of us trading leads. We worked as a team.

Because of the sensationalism of the croc attack, and because of his personality and the fact that he was this emerging legend—Hendri’s death touched a lot of people. I was ready to use that as an opportunity to speak positively about Hendri and what he stood for. But that didn’t make it any easier. If you’re a kayaker long enough, you’re going to lose friends. When they’re close to you, it hurts so bad.

— Ben Stookesberry was a member of Coetzee’s final expedition, to the Congo headwaters in late 2010. As told to Jeff Moag.