Over the past ten years, Riaan Manser has re-written the definition of tenacity and become the epitome of courage and determination.
Riaan Manser rose to prominence on becoming the first person to cycle around the perimeter of Africa. For over two years, alone and unaided, he pedalled a staggering 37,000 km through 34 countries, some of which rank as the most dangerous countries on Earth. Maner’s achievement earned him the title “OutThere Adventurer of the Year 2006” and his book, “Around Africa on my Bicycle”, became a bestseller.
During Manser’s journey he was imprisoned in Equatorial Guinea and was held captive by drugged teenage rebels in Liberia. On both occasions he secured his release through his charm, amicable personality and exceptional powers of persuasion. Along the way he ate some exotic dishes such as monkey, bat, camel and rat.
And as if cycling the perimeter of the continent wasn’t enough, he also climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and descended to Lake Assal, the highest and lowest points on the continent.
On seeing Manser’s story on television, Nelson Mandela personally requested a meeting with him, saying it was “a performance that will inspire the youth of the continent”. The Explorer’s Club in New York – whose members include the first man to reach the North Pole, the first to reach the South Pole, the top of Everest, the deepest point in the ocean and the first man on the moon – extended a special invitation for him to speak before its illustrious organisation. In July 2009, Manser set another world first when he became the first person to circumnavigate Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, by kayak – also alone and unaided.
This colossal journey, which saw him paddle 5000km in eleven months, was, he said, considerably more demanding, both physically and mentally. He had to conquer extreme loneliness whilst enduring treacherous conditions like pounding seas, cyclones and an unrelenting sun which, combined with salt water, almost pickled Manser alive.
During his circumnavigation Riaan had many memorable close encounters with Madagascar’s marine life – humpback whales breaching metres away from his kayak, giant leatherback turtles gliding alongside him and even having his boat rammed by a shark.
Manser travelled around Madagascar during a period of extreme political turmoil and he again landed up in prison, this time for two nights on suspicion of carrying out mercenary activities.
In April 2010, his efforts were rewarded with his second accolade, “OutThere Adventurer of the Year 2009” and “Around Madagascar on my Kayak”, his book recounting his amazing feat, has also received acclaim.
March 2011 saw Manser begin his next challenge. This time he took on mystical Iceland and her arctic waters with a partner, Dan Skinstad, who has mild cerebral palsy. “Around Iceland on Inspiration” saw the two paddle 2300km to circumnavigate Iceland in a double sea-kayak over a five month period.
Riaan Manser’s warm-up for Iceland included living and touring South Africa in a refrigeration container for a week. He decided to do this to raise funds for his trust ‘No Food for Lazy Man’ which buys sports equipment for underprivileged children, as well as to help him prepare for Icelandic temperatures. However it could never have prepared him for the snow he encountered upon landing in Iceland. Manser and other team members had never seen snow before, and in the first few days before they started their journey there were many snow-fights.
Landings were another of the pair’s biggest challenges. Approaching rocky shores that are being pounded by wind and surf is a hazardous business. Between timings and luck, you’re a second away from disaster at any moment. Their landings were made even more difficult because of their “sea-legs” which they’d develop after a long day’s paddle of 8 – 10 hours. Often, even the softest landings would result in Manser and Dan spluttering and crawling for a few moments on the black sand on all fours after tumbling out of the boat during the landing.
As the long days of summer arrived, the pair began paddling through the night. This proved to be a successful strategy, although it messed up their sleep patterns. “The sunlit nights in Iceland bring calmer winds, so we have been paddling at night quite a bit. It is really surreal to be able to see clearly throughout the night, to listen to the night sounds and observe the misty night scenes of Iceland.”
On 5 September 2011, after 147 paddling days, blistered and aching, they arrived back at their starting point, their circumnavigation complete.
Thousands of people from blue-chip companies to community projects and from schools to non-governmental organisations, have been moved by Manser’s extraordinary, and often hilarious, tales of perseverance and unrelenting resolve. Riaan Manser speaks passionately about his adventures, motivating and inspiring all who attend his presentations.
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