Fredi – the rafting bull fighter

Over the years some competitive rafting teams have built up their names and statuses and are now world renown. But there are also some individual rafters who have done this too. Here we will talk to one of these characters.

Graeme Maifredi (Fredi)

At this WRC 2013 the Australian Master Men’s team consists of: Darrell Daveson, Wagner Torres, Glen Hardy, Dave Berry and Jason Edmonds and the man we will chat to now, their captain, Graham Maifredi.

Graham has represented Australia at many WRC, he has just handed over the presidency of the Australian Rafting Federation which he has held since 2000, and he has received various Australia Day Awards for Sports Achievements both for Sport and Sport’s Management. He he started Rafting Commercially for Raft-n-Rainforest (RNR) in November 1989 and continues to this day and has since completed in excess of 2400 commercial river trips at home and internationally. He is an IRF GT&E Assessor and Chief Judge and he is sweet too for he also runs the family Sugar Cane Farm. And let’s not forget his Taekwondo Black Belt and Rodeo Bull Riding – he certainly has not wasted any time in his life!

GM China Rafting
China R2 Race

He has competed in rafting events as far back as Project RAFT and so has witnessed many changes over the years, in competitive rafting and rafting tourism, has watched the IRF come into being and the WRC take form and grow.

So we ask him what he would single out as the most characteristic change from the beginning to now.

“It was more holistic … not only did we race… the teams really got to know one another both on and off the river. We got right into understanding the host country’s culture. We had more time, not so much rush, rush, rush. Plus the camaraderie of Project RAFT days was legendary!

How was Project RAFT different to the competitions we attend today?

“Starting with the 3-day epic cross country journey to the Coruh River in 1993 – first by plane and then Fiat mini bus convoy to a village and then on to base camp. There was nightly Team Talent Shows, environmental awareness programs and cultural interactions with the villages we visited along the way.. Also, another good thing in those days was that we always left a positive mark in some way. Examples – in Turkey we got into them recycling and the river villages to rethink using the Coruh River as a rubbish /sewage disposal – (“Coruh Poo Blues” are well remembered by all who attended!) My first CWWC in 1995 in Zimbabwe we built a pump house (from 10 + pallets of bricks) and a water bore for a National Park in drought to water the animals, all done in a testing 35 C heat, It was great to be a part of Rafa Gallo’s (WRC 2011) Tree Reforestation Project in Costa Rica in 2011 … all admirable things to do I feel.”

GM Turkey Convoy
Convoy on the way to the Coruh, Turkey

And the people you met?

“In 1993, we were grouped with the Russians and the Israelis, with a group facilitator Judi from California. . I was there as a fresh faced wide-eyed 24-year-old country boy in the wilds of far North Eastern Turkey. Quite a crew of men to be matched up with, Israeli solders from the Jordan River and Russians that traveled by ship across the Black Sea. The communication was difficult … every night it was a trade-off between the Russian potato Vodka and our dark and equally potent Sugar Cane Rum until we’d eventually sipped enough to understand each other. Then back up the next day as we rafted and raced down the ‘Coruh” from campsite to campsite.”

Tell us about your team in those days.

GM Gate 3 Coruh River 1993
Gate 3, Coruh River, 1993

“Our team was called ”The Pacific Hedgehogs” (Team Oz) and we actually led the competition all the way to the last event on the last day. We were 1st in the Orienteering Race, 2nd in the Rescue Race, 1st in the Downriver, 2nd in the Raft Slalom and 3rd in the Cataraft Slalom. But the Kayak Race was also included in points and our kayaker had a bad run, missing gate 3 where he was being re-circulated with a rotten dead goat …  a real GUTS run … and that put us 2nd overall to the defending men’s “Team California” Us Aussies would call them “totally up themselves, yet in Project RAFT tradition, we became friends. We missed the win by a whisker. BUT in coming so close at the first go at a World Rafting Competition, I was hooked on the whole experience … and so and here we are today!”

Rafting equipment and events have modernized as well over the years – what do you think about that?

“We always all camped as we did in Costa Rica WRC 2011, no hotels or cabins! It’s old school now, it was cool, but beds are better! The modern day competitor these days has multiple Go Pro cameras, raft tripods, GPS tracking, heart rate monitors, Camel Backs, wetsuits, fancy river clothing and more. Off river we have our heads down in lap top computers, iPads or mobile phones – it’s a technical world these days. I feel people miss proper social interactions because we are too busy these days. Hey I am guilty of it as much as the next person, yet I’m going to ditch the tech at this WRC and hope to catch up with old mates. I do see the way forward though, with all this high tech gadgetry to help continuous improvement, it will develop better athletes…. and hence carve out dreams of an Olympic niche with the R4 one sunny day in the future.”

GM Zambezi CWWC Champions 2001
Zambezi – CWWC Champions 2001

“Yet I yearn for the big water of Project RAFT or the Camel Whitewater Challenge (CWWC). Since 1993 I dreamt of winning a world rafting competition against the top teams; so there was no prouder man on earth when the efforts of my team at the 2001 CCWC in Zambia resulted in a 1st in Sprint, 2nd H2H, 3rd in Slalom, 3rd in the Raft Downriver, 8th Kayak Downriver and the end result – a first ever win for Oz, No cameras, comms, GPS, no PC’s, no multiple trips to the location and endless river practice runs – just a recipe of old fashion river smarts and a team of mates around you that you could trust and a bit of “mongrel” in their belly!” Awesome satisfaction I’m sure!

GM Bull fightAt the previous WRC 2011, you had a little accident in the fight with the bull. How did that even happen? :)

Well, have you ever ridden a Bull??? It you haven’t I can tell you it is one of the biggest rushes you will ever experience, guaranteed!!! I’ve ridden in 3 rodeos and a few times around cattle yards back home, yet I have never been a “Rodeo Clown”. The incident in Costa Rica was a tough lesson from the school of hard knocks about “Clowning”. Leave it to the professionals I say, don’t mess with “el Toro”, especially after the Italian Men’s Raft Team slipped you a few too many Grappa’s at the bar… Mamma Mia!”

In this competition there will be some of the old rafters you have competed against before, including the president of the IRF – what will your team do differently to the others, where do you see your advantage over the others? What will be your tactic?

“Oi, I can’t tell you tactics…that would show our hand! BUT you can bet when I line up against the Costa Ricans and the ole fox being IRF ‘El Presidente”, there will be a fair bit of banter trading back and forth…and no doubt more afterwards :)” 

I can’t wait to see what “old school” has to show us. Seeing these people with so many years of rafting experience competing again is a pleasure and a success to those who initiated the Youth and Master categories. Simply, there is no more retirement for rafters any more! 

Article by Nada