Steve Fisher’s Epic Congo Close-Call

Steve Fisher and his team take risk life and limb in the infamous rapids on the Congo River.
By Josh Sampiero

"It was easily the closest I've ever come to dying”. That's what Red Bull kayaker Steve Fisher says of last year's epic first descent of the infamous Inga rapids, the world's biggest rapid.

The trip, which was the basis of his highly acclaimed white-water film “CONGO: The Grand Inga Project”, earned him a nomination for National Geographic's Adventurer of the Year award.

Steve Fisher organises gear before embarking on a helicopter trip to kayak on the Congo River, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, on 23 October 2011.
Anticipation © Greg von Doersten/Red Bull Content Pool

The film chronicles the efforts of Fisher and big water pros Ben Marr, Rush Sturges and Tyler Bradt as they battle seemingly insurmountable obstacles, navigate through the maddening politics of a central African country and face their own worst fears in an attempt to survive the dirty and ferocious Inga Rapids.

The rapids have a deserved reputation. The last team to attempt a descent, in 1985, ended in disaster when all seven died, although whether that was from the water or from soldiers, no one knows for sure.

The rapids are located on a 15km section of the Congo, the world's second largest river, where the water rushes at 50kph — almost 50 times the average flow of the Grand Canyon's steepest section — and where 12m waves are not uncommon.

Steve Fisher poses for a portrait on the Inga Rapids expedition, by the Congo River, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, on 19 October 2011.
The thundering rapids © Greg von Doersten/Red Bull Content Pool

“I would say that the Congo, without a doubt is the scariest, most dangerous thing I have ever done in a kayak,” Bradt would later recall, and this from someone who holds the record for dropping a 187-foot waterfall. “It felt like the river was literally trying to kill us at every single twist and turn.”

It nearly succeeded. In one particularly notable segment of the film, Fisher spends a full 60 seconds submerged before emerging miraculously unscathed.

Steve Fisher kayaks on the Class V, White Nile River, in Uganda, Africa on 10 October 2011.
Steve Fisher kayaks on the Class V in Uganda © Greg von Doersten/Red Bull Content Pool

The film was released last August and met with widespread acclaim throughout the paddling world, including winning the "Best in Show" award at the National Paddle Film Festival in Frankfort, Kentucky.

So what does Fisher have planned next? “I have got a few awesome kayak adventures up my sleeve, but since I’ve done Inga, they won’t be about ‘higher’ and ‘more dangerous’,” he told

“Done that! What I would like to focus on in future are my film-making skills. I want to apply my story telling to high-end cinematography about other people, specifically younger kayak talent and eventually other sports. More to come soon!”

To get the full story and see Fisher's award-winning 80-minute documentary, visit

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