Sue Liell-Cock photo

IRF Secretary General Sue Liell-Cock retires

Sue Liell-Cock enjoying the competition at the 2013 WRC in New Zealand

We are sad to announce that Sue Liell-Cock, IRF Secretary General and a friend of rafting enthusiasts world-wide, has retired after a long and storied career here at the International Rafting Federation.

Sue is one of the founders of the IRF when it was established in 1997, and has been a member of the IRF Board of Directors and the principal member of our administrative team ever since. Her dedication to our sport and to the success of the IRF is beyond compare. Within her role as IRF Secretary General, Sue has been a leader, mentor and a friend to many of us.

Everyone who has worked with Sue knows her as a dedicated professional and a person of great integrity. We are going to miss her enthusiasm and experience, and no doubt will continue to call on her advice in the years ahead.

In honor of her 26 years of service and commitment to the IRF, the Board of Directors has nominated her to be named as an Honorary Director during the upcoming 2024 IRF Congress. We wish Sue a fond farewell and great success in whatever adventures await her ahead! Paddle forward!

We recently interviewed Sue to discuss her history with the IRF and to hear her thoughts about this change in her life and her vision for the future.

Sue Liell-Cock and team racing at the Zambezi River festival

Q – How did you become involved in the IRF?

A – It started off when I was a river guide and part owner of a river company, and we raced the only women’s team (out of 32 teams) at the Zambezi River Festival. That inspired a few of us to attend the Project Raft event in Turkey where I met Rafa Gallo and some notable others. Shortly after that I joined Tony Hansen when he started running the Camel White Water Challenge (CWWC) on the Zambezi River. This put us at the centre of the raft racing world, and so we were then part of the formation of the IRF in 1997, with the likes of Rafa Gallo, Lee Porter and Peter Micheler. It then fitted well that I work part time on the CWWC and the IRF.

Q – What was your experience prior to the founding of the IRF and how did that experience prepare you for your tasks as IRF Secretary General?

A – I had a BSc in Computer and Environmental Sciences, but the 9 to 5 work life with short holidays did not suit me, so I became a river guide. 😊 After 7 years in the river industry, and 9 months of travelling in South America I started working with Tony Hansen on the CWWC and for the IRF. The work was initially part time which worked well while raising kids. I drew on those experiences in my work for the IRF during all those years.

Q – Was there any particular driving achievement you sought that instilled your tenacity of providing a foundation for international raft racing?

A – I loved the river industry – being out in nature, and on rivers, is an awesome way to earn a living and introduce others to that wonderful world. If people love something they will preserve it, so it is important to grow that love. But rivers can be deadly, and so it felt good to be part of something that was increasing safety and sustainability on rivers. The competition side of the IRF, has always been the more visible and popular side. Watching the skills of the top teams competing was always mesmerising, and just as rewarding was the tenacity of newer teams. The big events were, besides a time of competing and challenging each other, always a great time to see good friends again and build up new friendships. It was awesome to go to new countries, new rivers, new cultures, and see old faces and have good times together, building the history of the IRF.

Q – The IRF requires coordinating with people throughout the world. How did you manage the expertise, personalities, and individual preferences to reach the common goal of supporting an international rafting organization?

A – Coordinating with people was definitely one of the big challenges I had. There are so many diverse people, languages, and cultures in the IRF, and they all live and work in such differing environments. So, what may work in one place may not work at all in another. Trying to keep the IRF flexible enough to incorporate all these differences was often very challenging. And many of the personalities are strong minded, with plenty of egos to go around! These are usually the people that make things happen though, so learning to work with their strengths and work around their egos was essential.

Sue, Rafa and Joe at the 2015 WRC in Indonesia

Q – Where would you like to see the IRF in 5, 10, or even 20 years from now?

A – I hope the IRF can consistently run a World Rafting Champs (WRCs) every year, and can be financially secure to achieve all its goals. I’d like to see the para-rafting side growing, the sustainability aspect become more prominent, the guide training side continue as well as it has been doing, and the rafting operator accreditation taking off. I’d also like to see more people, especially the younger generations, getting involved in the various aspects of the IRF. There is so much the IRF can achieve, it just needs people’s time and energy.

Q – What is on the horizon of your future now that you have more time available to you?

A – I don’t plan to leap into anything new yet. I have plenty to catch up on after many years of continuous working, and I’m focusing on having a good life with the people I enjoy spending time with, one never knows when that no longer becomes an option. Doing more mountain biking, hiking, climbing, and travelling are high on that list, as well as just chilling, enjoying life and the people special to me. I live in Cape Town which is where I grew up, so I’m close to long-time friends and family and in an outdoor playground, so that makes it very easy.

It was definitely time for me to step back from IRF administration, and to bring in new faces. I’d like to thank the many people I worked closely with over the years, who made the work easier for me. And to thank the many for the good times and good memories. I wish everyone in the IRF well for the future. I will miss catching up with them at the WRCs.