Boogie boards and helmets don’t usually go together, unless, of course, you’re in New Zealand. In this nation where extreme sports have a tendency to multiply, white water sledging is when boogie boarding, kayaking and white water rafting all combine to form an aquatic thrill that is as unique as it is unforgettable. Unlike an activity like white water rafting—where the goal is to ultimately avoid falling in the water—white water sledging means swimming right through the middle of raging white rapids.
With the help of a specially made board for rivers, white water sledging—which is also called riverboarding—allows sledgers to feel the river’s every move as it undulates, splashes, sucks, and spits its way through gorges and canyons. Surf a standing river wave as it flows upwards over the rocks, and get dunked down into the icy cold waters at the mercy of eddies and currents.
Thick wetsuits are provided for sledgers as a way to stave off the chill, and the feeling of flowing as one with the river can be so intoxicating that any thoughts of discomfort are eliminated with the first big splash. On the South Island of New Zealand, the Kawarau River between Wanaka and Queenstown is the most popular place for sledging, and rapids such as “Maneater” are sure to provide an aquatic rush of adrenaline. On the North Island, on the outskirts of Rotorua, the Wairoa River offers class V rapids that are the largest, strongest—and potentially most dangerous—rapids that are available for sledging. Visitors who are comfortable in the water, however, and who are looking for an adventure that is unrivaled by any other water sport in New Zealand, should grab a board, throw on a wetsuit, and go splashing face first down the scenic waterways that define the beauty New Zealand.