Up Africa: An Inside Look At the Kuzi Project

Seth Warren SUP surfing the Nile River. Photo: Dan Morton

To some, the east coast of Africa is as foreign as space. To seasoned adventurers such as Kirk Hollis and Seth Warren, it’s a playground. Hollis, 31, is leading them on the Kuzi Project, covering some 500 miles over two months from Pemba, Mozambique to Zanzibar Tanzania on custom-built paddleboards. They will have the brunt of the seasonal prevailing south-to-north “Kuzi” winds at their backs as they SUP and kiteboard around uninhabited islands, over shallow reefs and northward towards their destination.

For the South African Hollis, this is familiar territory: he rode his kiteboard through this area in 2011/12 on an 2,500 mile, eight-month expedition from South Africa to Kenya. Warren, 36, has done extended kayaking expeditions in Africa, South America and Alaska. We got in touch with Warren to get his take on getting malaria, making a documentary and taking their time.

SUP mag: When do you guys take off?
SW: Sometime after the 20th of July. Our schedule is super flexible. I haven’t even booked my ticket back yet. We want it to be so mellow. Kirk tells me it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. It sounds like paradise for kiting and SUPing.

Kirk Hollis takes a paddle on the Nile.
Kirk Hollis takes a paddle on the Nile.

SUP mag: So you guys are going to cruise and enjoy it more rather than push hard?
SW: Yeah. By taking it slow we’ll be able to do lots of filming. I’m stoked to get creative. It’s a super long trip, around 500-ish miles. I know how fast we can go on our 15-foot boards; I’m thinking we’re going to be flying on those big winds and big swells. We’re thinking our average distance will be like 10 miles a day. I imagine there will be days when we do one mile and days when we do 30.

SUP mag: How heavy is all your gear added up?
SW: We designed the boards so we could take around 100 pounds. Obviously the biggest thing is the pile of camera equipment. For clothes, we’re bringing flip flops and shorts. We don’t even need sleeping bags, just liners. It’s totally tropical. It’ll be cool at night—it’s winter there—so we’ll have long sleeves at night.

The custom 15' downwind boards.
The custom 15' downwind boards.

SUP mag: What about malaria medication?
SW: We don’t really believe in that. Odds are we’ll probably go down with malaria at some time during the trip. We’re bringing the drugs if we do get it. We’ve both had it enough to know when we have it. You take that medicine and in two or three days you’re over it. It’ll be a good excuse to have a rest stop.

SUP mag: You’re making a film of the project; what does it take to document a mission like this?
SW: It’s tough because there are only two of us. There’s nothing worse than trying to be in my own film. I’ve done that before. Kirk is such a character and he can really carry this story on his own. I’ll be present but behind the lens.

SUP mag: What’s it like to do physical feats while filming at the same time?
SW: This is a full-on expedition. As you zoom more into it as an expedition, it’s more of a lifestyle piece. Rather than getting hardcore and getting distance it’s slowed down. When you see something amazing, paddle over to it, stop and surf around a little bit. Tie the boards off, go swim, snorkel, film the whales. We want leave it open so adventure so we experience as much as we can.

Hollis, kiting.
Hollis, kiting.

SUP mag: How did you meet Kirk?
SW: I met him in 2004 when I was living in Uganda on the White Nile. He was raft guide and I was there kayaking. His personality is fun and adventurous. He did a whole trip (on the TKcoast) with no camera or anything and couldn’t find anyone to go on that thing. If I didn’t sign up he probably would have gone on this alone.

He told me his idea for this trip at the bar late at night and I was like, “I’m in.” We looked each other in the eyes and shook hands. We were commiteed. I knew he was and he knew I was.

SUP mag: So you guys are ready for this?
SW: There are a lot of holes in the plan but that’s what adventure is. He knows as much as he can know. He doesn’t know everything. We’ve both done many missions like this and know there are a lot of variables. We’ve planned for the variables and will freestyle the rest.

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