Kota Kinabalu is a great a jump-off for adventurous day trips, like biking, hiking, island hopping, and whitewater rafting. Most of the rafting outfits in Sabah run trips down the Kiulu or Padas Rivers, but last year a new company called Xtreme Paddlers opened up shop on the Kedamaian River in Kota Belud district. I had never been rafting before and was excited to tackle some rapids. So on a Saturday morning in October, I left Kota Kinabalu with two work friends, Nicca and Oswald, for a day of rafting with Xtreme Paddlers.

The drive up to Kota Belud was beautiful, the scenery around the base of Mount Kinabalu is stunning in the mornings when the views are clear. We talked about village life growing up and laughed at Oswald’s jokes as we made our way toward the Kedamaian River.

We were welcomed with open arms by owners Ann and Andrey, they were so friendly! After a light refreshment we picked out our life jackets and helmets. All the equipment was brand new, light, and comfortable. After that we had a short safety briefing from the lead river guide, Abu. He was a funny guy, but very thorough about safety precautions. He demonstrated how to hold a paddle, explained what to do if we fell out of the boat, and reminded us not to panic.

There were four boats all together, with five people per boat, including the guide. Nicca and Oswald ended up in a different raft, and I was placed in a group with Abu. The other guides joked that the people in Abu’s raft will need to have good swimming skills, I chuckled nervously. But once we hit the river, I was happy to have him as my guide. Abu kept us entertained with his stories, and he knew the river like the back of his hand, pointing out geological features and landmarks along the way.

Soon after, we learned about the family’s orchard on the property and shared fresh coconuts with some of the neighbouring children, whom also taught us how to catch our dinner in the fish farms – their skills at such a young age is impressive!

The first rapid we encountered was called Smiling Drop, and what an appropriate name as the first sudden jolt splashed us all with water and left everyone smiling.

The river was exciting and full of whitewater, with a handful of class two and three rapids. We’d been rafting for about fifteen-minutes when Abu commanded us to paddle hard and fast into a stretch of rough water. All of a sudden we hit a huge rock and the boat went spinning, it took me off guard and before I knew it I had been launched into the river! Abu was quick to the rescue, and using the hooked handle of his paddle, he swiftly reach in and snagged me by the collar of my life jacket. He pulled my back over to the boat, and I climbed aboard as everyone cheered.

I was more prepared for the rest of the river, and had a blast as we pin-balled down the rapids, spinning through the currents and bouncing off boulders. Towards the end of the trip, in a section of the river with no rocks, I jumped back in the water to do some body rafting. The current was strong and the water splashed up in my face. It was a fun way to end the trip.

Lunch was served after we arrived at the end point. We were exhausted, and after eating, we drove back to Kota Kinabalu, sharing our stories along the way.

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