We are river family – meet Kianoosh Mehrabi

Cast your mind back to 1985, now imagine the Persian Gulf, the seaside port of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran. Somewhere out there on the water is a young Kianoosh Mehrabi! For many years he’d watched videos of white water rafting and kayaking but didn’t know how or where to get into whitewater sports. So he started with many other water sports such as swimming, flat water canoeing and kayaking, water skiing etc, but they weren’t enough for him. They didn’t satisfy his adventurous side so he kept searching for true adrenaline sport.

Kianoosh stepped into the world of tourism in 1996. A little later he joined Ecotour Iran, the first and leading Iranian Ecotourism Center as tour manager. There he found the chance of working with ecotourism experts. At this point he started combining Nature and Adventure with tourism. He loved this job a lot but still it was not enough – because he had less time for his on water activities.

How did you get started in rafting?
I was on a wildlife tour in India looking for Bengal Tigers in 2002. After finishing the tour I had a few days free time so I decided to go to Uttrakhan Province, the holy province for Indians, the origin of the holy Ganges River. It was not only the most famous place for yoga and meditation but also a newly famous place for rafting. I joined a rafting tour for the first time and I fell in love with rafting. I found my real love!

I combined rafting and tourism. It was the best combination! I could have wet adventure and tourism together so I had enough time for both tourism and adventure sport. White water rafting in Iran was a relatively new adventure activity started in 2003 with early expeditions and rafting trips to the Himalayas (India and Nepal) arranged by Kianoosh Mehrabi, the first Iranian raft guide and river expedition leader. Many Iranians had the chance to paddle in the Himalayan Rivers – Alaknanda, Ganga, Trisuli, etc.

After gaining knowledge and experience in 2007 he devised “River Ecotourism in Iran” which was considered by the Iranian Tourism Organizations as a national development plan for the country. The plan was based on River Tourism safety standards and Eco-tourism principals. The main aims were: promoting white water activities in tourism and sport, preserving nature and conserving rivers, empowering local communities by employment and economic development.

2004 Nepal Swimming Competition

What motivates you to keep rafting?
Rafting is my world! I look at rafting and white water activities in 3 different fields: Rafting as a Sport, Rafting as an Eco-Adventure Tourism Activity and Rescue. No other activity can be wonderful as rafting because:

  • Rafting as a Sport: It is an amazing sport which needs your soul and body together. You are in the hands of our mother nature and you can get energy from it!
  • Rafting is an Eco Adventure Activity: It is a unique kind of adventure tourism you can explore the nature at the same time help to conserve rivers and nature as well as bringing benefits for the local people and earn yourself
  • Rafting and White Water activities for Rescue: In the river accidents or floods our knowledge and skills can help save people and animals. This is the most valuable part of rafting and white water skills to rescue lives

 When I paddle I explore the nature, practice sport and retrain rescue techniques!

Rafting for people with disabilities on the Sefidroud River, Iran

Most memorable experience on the river?
My most memorable rafting experience is the first rafting trip I organised for “People with Disabilities”! For a long time I had been thinking that people with disabilities are able to participate and enjoy adventure activities. A disability cannot stop them from enjoying nature and adventure tourism. They only need more attention and care.

Here is an extract from Kianoosh’s adventure (published in full here on the IRF website):

I started working with the association of people with disabilities. Their manager Mr. Saeed Zaroori was very strong and talented person. After long time discussions and communicating with many organizations everything was ready for a real adventure on Sefid Roud River in Giland Provine-Iran.

The Action Day
On Monday 29 June 2015, one of my lifetime dreams came true… “Rafting for People with Disabilities”…
I was thinking that due to their condition we should expect them at the river around 10… We (Iran Rafting Team) were on the river at 8:30, and saw they are all equipped and ready at the river by 8:00!!! I was surprised!!! How did they do it?!!
So from the very beginning I realized that these people are reliable and strong. After taking some pictures, I started the safety talk as trip leader. I did it in two ways, for those who cannot paddle and just should sit and enjoy the whitewater, and those who can paddle partially or completely. It was a great experience!
We were on the river for three hours. The beginning part was a flat section giving them the chance to warm up and become familiar with the river and rafting. Then we went through some safe and easy rapids. It was time for a rest. The team stopped in a beautiful river bank, where they could play some games, enjoy the water and have some snacks.
We continued and went through some big waves and exciting rapids. They looked professional in the waves! We were a team now. I will never forget how they enjoyed the white water and how they screamed from the bottom of their hearts.
Soon we arrived at the finishing point! The last rapid was a great class 3, the biggest and the most exciting one just before the finishing point.
It was a unique opportunity for Iran Rafting Association and Iran Rafting Team members. We learned a lot from these people.
To all professional rafters: Make whitewater adventures easy, safe and accessible for people with special needs. Believe us… These people are “ABLE to Enjoy Wet Adventure”.

What do you do outside of rafting?
I am Head of Marcopolo Eco-Adventure Tourism Center. My job is Eco-Adventure management. We arrange and perform Ecotours and adventure programs in Iran for Iranians and international travelers as well as outgoing adventures to remote areas such as:

  • Africa for wildlife safaris and rafting
  • All around Asia for rafting expeditions and day trips, wildlife safari, trekking etc
  • Europe for adventure programs and remote places such as Iceland and north pole
  • Central and South America for nature trekking and adventures
  • We have a team of Eco-Adventure experts called mTEAM (Marcopolo The Eco Adventure Masters).
Iran Rafting Festival 2010 – Armand River

Funniest / most ironic river moment
It happened in Guilin, China after 2017 Guilin World Cup. After Down River Race we started to paddle down the river. It was my first time on this river and didn’t know anything about the rapids. Graham Maifredi, amazing Australian Rafting Assessor was guiding and Aleks the Bosnian Judge and I were enjoying rafting and the sceneries on the raft… But … we heard the sound of the two Chinese rafters who needed help. We went toward them, they were in a bad situation and could not control the raft (they were good canoe slalom paddlers but not rafters). Fredi asked me to jump in their boat and guide the raft!
… Soon Fredi went down and I was with the two nice Chinese Guys who do not know English!!! I tried to communicate with them by body language and showed them “1 means Forward and 2 means backward”. Very soon big rapids arrived! There was no place to scout the rapids! It was really an exciting and hard time because I was guiding on class 4 rapids and I didn’t know the lines. In the middle of rapids I decided where to go. It was like I am blind guiding.
At the end of the rapid the nice friends such as Joe Willie Jones, and Tim Marshall and others were waiting for us. I really want to see the pictures that camera men took of our rafts…

Worst moment on a river
The worst moment for me was when I lost my friend, Payam Banihashemi on Haraz River. It was three years ago, when Payam was guiding his raft, and the river took them to a bad siphon. He jumped out the raft to avoid going to the siphon, but he was stuck there! We pulled him out in less than a minute but he was unconscious and we could not save his life. He sacrificed himself for the rafting participants!
He was an amazing raft guide and white water rescue technician as well as Search and Rescue master and first aid instructor. He spent all his life to save lives and rescue people in the disasters including Bam earthquake, floods in northern Iran, avalanche accidents, many mountain accidents, many car crashes etc as head of rescue teams.

Any words of wisdom to those new to rafting?
Life is short… Paddle hard!
“Kianoosh” in Nepalese language means “Paddle Together”. I found that I am born to promote rafting in my country, since I knew the meaning of my name in Nepalese language. It shows that with team work we can achieve our goals.
Life is like rafting. You need to prepare yourself for the journey, you are in a team, you need to paddle together, some parts are calm and relaxing, some parts are exciting and you need to paddle hard, before and after each rapid you experience calmness (calmness before and after storm!), and the road is very important not the end!
That’s why Rafting is everything for me!

What do you think is the key strength of the IRF?
I have been cooperating with IRF since 2009. The strongest point of the IRF is Team Work. I learned team work from IRF and use it in my life and my job.

Australasia Rating Champs 2010 – Team Iran OM

River exploration achievements:

  • Sezar & Bakhtiari Rivers, Lorestan and Khouzestan, Iran-2018
  • Sirvan River, Kurdestan, Iran-2018
  • Karkheh River, Khuzestan, Iran-2017 & 2018
  • Ghezel Ozan, Ardebil & Zanjan, Iran-2016
  • Haraz River, Mazandaran, Iran-2008, 2011, 2012
  • Sefidroud River, Gilan, Iran-2007
  • Armand River, Iran-2008 & 2009
  • Polroud River, Iran-2007

Any big projects or plans at the moment?
River Ecotourism in Iran, a wide project to start and promote river ecotourism in different rivers of Iran, 2006-Now

Kianoosh is one of our River Family. Are You?
#AreYouReady #RaftersAreAwesome #RiverFamily #StrongerTogether #WeAreIRF #LikeAGirl #ThisGirlCan

We’re looking for more stories of River Family – if you have a story to tell, email Sean with your story and photos.