Friday, March 22, 2013

The pioneer kayaker of Sumatra


Abdul Halim (1963 - 2013)
Halim brewing coffee inside a 5-star hotel room!
Halim (Georg Jackstadt), was a german geographer living for 19 years in Sumatra, Indonesia. A self-taught kayaker, he got a team of Indonesians together to do whitewater rafting ("we thought there was business"), later whitewater kayaking ("when we realised it wasn't business - so we could still get to the rivers but had no customers to fill rafts").

He started in 1995 at Asahan river - probably the wildest whitewater in S.E asia. In the following years he built up a whitewater center, did first descents of many Sumatran rivers and competed at national and international events. One highlight was year 2000 when he went to France and was one of the 'wildboys' who became the first Indonesian ever at the Whitewater Racing World Championship in K1 ( he didn't become worldchampion... ).

Disaster hit in 2003 when a flashflood wiped out the village of Bukit lawang and his WWcenter. 150 people died. Tourism collapsed after that. The tsunami in 2004 made things worse. As if that wasn't enough, there are now plans for a hydropower scheme that would destroy most of the whitewater at Asahan river.

He never gave up pursuing paddling - and started exploring Lake Toba, the world's biggest crater lake. Coming from whitewater, he had no idea that touring kayaking could be so much fun. Nobody had ever done paddling trips on Lake Toba and he had absolutely no idea how many kilometres a touring kayak can cover per day or whatever, when he pushed his brand new kayak into the water. Since then, he had seen more shores on the lake than anyone else, and visited some villages not yet connected by roads. "You just feel like you're inside Lord of the Rings when you paddle in that scenery".

He later explored and paddled more of Sumatra's amazing landscape, including Pulau Banyak, Mentawais, Padang's coast, etc. He loved the waters and never tired of championing the rivers and waters of Sumatra. He was the founder and main mover of "Save the Asahan River". All international paddlers who wanted to paddle Sumatra seek him out. And Halim was always generous to share his knowledge and willing to help with logistics.

Halim was a friend, a colleague, a fellow kayaker, a fellow guide....we shared our love of Pink Floyd as much as the waters. We had an evil scheme going that anyone we took to paddle in Lake Toba must watch the Pink Floyd concert. In his youth, he looked a lot like David Gilmour, and while David went on earning his millions playing guitar, Halim touched the hearts of whoever paddled with him. He was a genuine person who loved life and kayaking. A true and kind soul who always had a pat and rub for animals and little creatures that wandered into his path. His gentle enunciated accent, funny anecdotes, and wacky jokes brought much silly laughters. He was never angry, never harsh.

Halim, no amount of tears shed today will bring you back even for a moment just to say goodbye. You had led ahead this time. I wish you good winds and good currents for the paddle ahead.

See you on the other side of the waters again.

Halim (right) near the summit of Gunung Sibayak. As a geographer, he also loved his volcanoes.  
One of the last photos of Halim taken on 16 March, 2013 on the Wampu River, Sumatra. He was testing his "gumotex experimental".  A modified Sunny. "We did sme mistakes, though, the manhole is so small - I can't wear a PFD in it...and no foot brace. Also takes about 20 minutes to tie the skirt on the kayak. So we leave it in inflated condition. I guess it needs some more experience n modifications till you can use it on Laos river. Two kayak air bags in front and back maybe wiser....but then you can't take much gear."

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