In our final River Family interview for 2018, we meet Vedat Vural – a pioneer of rafting in Turkey. Before 1990, he worked as a mountain and expedition guide, always getting excited every time he saw rivers carving through the mountains and valleys. It all seemed a mystery. Where does it go? Which places does it go through? What beauties of Nature are offered in its secret valleys? There was only one way of finding out the answer; go with the flow. Vedat had to find a way to travel with rivers in the same harmony, first making his own raft from tractor inner tubes meshed around with fishing net and circular plywood floor. The first test was on Turkey’s Köprüçay river in summer 1988. To put it simply: it failed. Vedat recalled that they just drifted down the river without any control. However, this is when he got the bug. The mission now was to find a proper raft to explore the legendary historical and holy Euphrates river. There were some rafts in Istanbul made for an Austrian company, but the company had changed their mind about buying them. This was their chance. With one of these rafts, Vedat led the first descent of the Euphrates and Coruh rivers becoming a rafting pioneer in Turkey.
What motivates you to keep rafting?
I am in love with Nature. Weather, environment, conditions, crew, rapids are constantly changing. Honing my decision making skills, singing songs all the way. Sharing my experiences with my crew is the highest motivation for me.
Which has been your most memorable experience on the river and why?
Running the mighty Zambezi river in 1997 always stays as a most memorable trip in my mind. Because it was the first overseas river trip that I led. I just couldn’t believe my eyes how big rapids were. “Stairway to Heaven” seemed to me like running over a giant multi-storey apartment collapsed sideways.
Funniest / most ironic river moment
We ran multi-day expeditions on the mighty Coruh river every high season (May/June) from 1991 until 2010. The campsite on night three was very close to the road junction for the mountain village of Çamlıkaya. The next day as we were rigging our rafts to start, an old lady in traditional clothes approached us. I could see in her eyes how surprised she was at what she was witnessing. As expected the questions followed one after another:
- Her: What are these?
- Us: These are rafts to travel on the the river.
- Her: Travelling on the river! Where do you come from with these?
- Us: Ohhh, we have started 3 days ago from Süleymanbağı.
- Her: Owww, you come all the way from there with these dinghies! Ehh? And where are you heading to? Where are you going to finish?
- Us: Yes, we are going to Yusufeli.
- Her: How long does it take to get there?
- Us: Two more days.
- Her: TWO DAYS!!! Ohh! My poor boys! Why don’t you go by bus? It only takes 45 min. to get to Yusufeli!
Worst moment on a river?
Running the Grade 4 Dalaman river at its highest level in March 2007. Our clients were 30 American Navy soldiers from the ship “WASP”. One of the big rapids capsized a boat… it didn’t take long to recover as were all floating downstream. But, being a trip leader I just wanted to be sure that we had the correct number of people in total. We stopped the whole operation in the nearest possible eddy and did a head count. One was missing! That was the scariest and worst moment of my life in the river. Finally after checking a few times, I realised we miscounted the heads in the adrenaline rush! Pheew!!!
How do you maintain a work / life balance?
I am an active Outdoor guide working through out the year. Activities I am involved in include river kayaking and sea kayaking, Whitewater Rafting, ski mountaineering, canyoning, trekking tours. This is a way of life for me.
Are you involved in any current (or recent) big projects outside of rafting?
Bicycle touring to central Asia last year. I cycled all the way from Turkey to Kyrgyzstan by following the silk road route through Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan’s Wakhan corridor along Afghanistan border, one of the most difficult terrains in the world, the 300km Bartang river valley, and crossed the Pamir Mountains at over 4500m altitude. It took 90 days in total. It was longest solo expedition and the most difficult and challenging remote trip that I have ever made in my life. Some of the rivers that I saw (Obinikhau, Panj, Karst, Bartang in Tajikistan) during this journey were wild, scary as well as stunning and fascinating. It made me feel at home.
Any words of wisdom to those new to rafting?
I have just three thing to teach; Simplicity, Patience, Compassion. These three things are your greatest Treasure.
When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you – Lao Tzu
What do you think is the key strength of the IRF?
Transparent structure, non-profit worldwide recognised river standards, and active voluntary staff.
When will we see you next?
I am retired now. But, I still have the energy to explore the natural beauties of planet earth. Ski mountaineering on glaciers, cycling Altai mountains and Africa, running free flowing rivers. So, I could be anywhere at any time.
Vedat is one of our River Family. Are You?
#AreYouReady #RaftersAreAwesome #RiverFamily #StrongerTogether #WeAreIRF
We’re looking for more stories of River Family – if you have a story to tell, email Sean with your story and photos.