Jan de Neef

Correct. A real character of the Umko.
A year or so ago I decided not to paddle the HH race and went down to no1 to marshal. River was running at a good levelwith lots of big swims. I saw Jan hit the top of No 1 and take a swim. Watched him safely float through the rapid. A little while later he cam walking up the bankwith his partner. The boat looked in good condition so when I asked him why he was pulling out he said that he had lost his paddle. Unfortunatly his prostheticarm is attached to the paddle so that went as well.
Rob Davey
We often hear of people leaving equipment at home before races, paddles, helmets etc but Jan once pitched up
at a race to find that he had left his arm behind.
Rob Davey
Mike Vehbi says:

The second incident occurred a few years ago at one of the rapids on the Umko River.

I had only started paddling a few months prior to the incident so I wasn’t familiar with the most of the paddlers who paddle the Umko.

Shortly after acquiring my river proficiency I completed a Swiftwater course with the aforementioned legend of the Umko, Rob Hill.

When the club made it known that they needed safety marshals for the Number 8 to Josephine’s Canoe race,  I had volunteered to perform marshalling duties for the Kingfisher Canoe club’s Number 8 to Josephine’s race.

I was assigned to marshal at a rapid named Devil’s toilet.

The river level was at about 1,4 meters.

At that level I was kept very busy with my throw-bag, dragging paddlers from the centre of the river to where I was standing, which was about 30 meters downstream from the rapid, on river left.

Aside from the paddlers there was also an assortment of canoes and paddles that came floating down the river from the rapid.

I managed to grab some of the canoes and paddles as they came floating past me.

You can imagine my surprise when one of the paddles I grabbed from the river had an arm still attached to it!!


I was instantaneously horrified and at the same time awed at the power of the mighty Umko rapids that they could sever a paddler’s arm.

Fortunately my horror and aware were short-lived as another Umko legend, Jan De Neef, came floating past me calling for his artificial arm and paddle.


This time it was me who felt embarrassed that I had assumed that paddling was the exclusive domain of the able-bodied.

Since this incident I have come to know and hugely respect Jan for his dedication and commitment to the wonderful sport of river paddling.

He has introduced and given guidance to many novice paddlers….myself included…and he has certainly not let the loss of one his limbs affect his paddling or his enthusiasm.


He is, in my opinion, a worthy ambassadors of our sport and another legend of the Umko and paddling in general.

Author: bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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