A Kiwi kayaker has told of his hair-raising encounter with a grizzly bear on a Canadian river that has earned him the nickname "bear bait".

Jonathan Smith of Kawerau was leading a group on a whitewater rafting trip down the Elaho River in British Columbia on July 13 when a grizzly bear swam at him.

The moment was captured on video as Smith was initially unaware of the fast-approaching adult bear.

"I turned around and it was swimming at me," Smith told the CBC News of Canada from his summer home in Whistler this week.

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"It was staring me in the eyes and wanted to eat me."

The drama unfolded as Smith, a rescue kayaker, paddled down the river toward the end of the rafting trip, scouting for hazards such as fallen trees.

Smith, who has only been working in Canada for a couple of months, was at first oblivious to the chasing bear.

"We'd gotten though all the big rapids and at that point we were getting to the end of the river and floating through the more scenic sections," he told CBC.

"I wasn't expecting any hazards at that point, so I was kind of lost in my own world."

Video of the incident, posted by Corey Boux on Instagram, shows the grizzly bear race into the water ahead of the rafts and in line with Smith who was blissfully unaware.

Rafters yelled to Smith and a colleague blew on a whistle to warn him of the impending danger and when Smith realises there is a bear swimming at his left he can be seen paddling at speed out of harm's reach.

"The rafts behind me were kind of yelling and I just thought they were having fun," he said.

"Apparently, what they had seen was these two ears pop up behind this log.

"Then, the bear kind of stood up and looked at them. Then, it looked at the rafts and then looked at me and just started sprinting at me."

The bear had been feeding on a dead elk carcass when it noticed Smith floating by and plunged into the water after him.

Grizzly bears can run as fast as a horse and swim quickly. Photo / Tourism British Columbia
Grizzly bears can run as fast as a horse and swim quickly. Photo / Tourism British Columbia

"They were trying to get my attention because I had no idea at all," Smith told CBC.

"That's when I turned around, and the bear was around 10 feet away [3 metres] from me in the water, trying to chase me down and eat me."

Smith admitted the incident was frightening and said bears were not usually a hazard to look out for.

"It was pretty terrifying. There is no denying it is pretty scary. But afterwards, I was like, that's pretty cool. You don't get to see that every day."

In the video shot by a customer, the bear appeared to give up the chase relatively quickly.

Grizzly bears rarely eat humans but when they do attack it is often as a defensive response to threats and surprises.

"They call me bear bait at work. It's awesome," Smith said. "They say he just wanted to taste Kiwi."