Sunday, January 24, 2010

Himalayan Whitewater Challenge 2009

Lachie Carracher and I recently returned from traveling and paddling around Nepal as part of our end of year South Asian tour. In November we helped organise, run, MC and judge the 12th Annual UK Himalayan Whitewater Challenge.

The Himalayan Challenge involves three events over three days on the Trisuli River in Central Nepal. Day one was a 15 gate slalom course - and only two paddlers were able to make every gate. Day two was the freestyle competition held to the latest ICF rules, and day three was a seventeen kilometre, predominantly flat, downriver race. At the completion of each day's event paddlers were given points by their placing - 1 point for first, 2 for second, 3 for third etc, and at the end of the three events the paddler with the lowest score would be the winner. International and Nepali entrants were separated so as to crown both a Nepali and International Champion.

More than fifty competitors - mostly from Nepal and also hailing from Japan, the UK, US, Australia, Canada and Russia turned out with all sorts of old school whitewater craft - RPM, Acrobat, Gliss and Kendo just some of the veteran kayaks in the field.

The same boat must be paddled in all three events, meaning boat choice was paramount to the chances of winning the overall championship. Creek boats would be best in Slalom and Downriver categories but meant a disadvantage during day two's freestyle. A playboat would do well on day two, average on the Slalom and would be particularly demoralising on day three's 45+ minute downriver race.

With Lachie in his medium Fluid Solo and myself a large Habitat, we entered our ever Slalom competition with high confidence to make each and every gate. Of course things didn't go quite as well as the training runs... both missing gate 12 after a tough ferry through a juicy hole and turning back to the eddy for another attempt at the 50 second missed gate penalty. I made it back up but missed 12 again and elected to continue on to 13 and course completion. Lachie tried the same on his run but got unlucky with the boiling eddy and was unable to reach any of the remaining gates, effectively ending his competition on day one with the resultant 200 second penalty.

After a night of barefoot beach dancing we awoke to the freestyle competition and began to set up the judging booth. With beats pumping and heads thumping the competitors took to the water in their chosen craft. Loops were the order of the day, especially from those in medium sized river runners, and a stuck loop almost guaranteed progression into the next round. With the large habitat rejecting my attempts at loops I was relegated to entry moves and spins to make my way through the heats seeded 5th. Unfortunately in the round of 13 I forgot how to do the entry move and scored a big fat 0 points.

The freestyle was eventually overrun by the playboats favoured by many Nepali entrants, with eventual overall winner Maila Gurung from Nepal the last remaining creekboat in the field. Winner Anup Gurung was the only competitor to throw down blunts and retain the feature for the full 45 seconds - most paddlers were going for loops and flushing. The only Huge bonus of the competition was awarded to Teru from Japan who pulled off a massive aerial loop in his Riot Thunder.

On day three the downriver race was scheduled to begin with a 'Lemans' style start whereby all competitors started on the beach and had to run to their kayaks and begin. About ten of us hopped in our kayaks and took off deckless, with the idea that we would get into the current and put them on there, perhaps saving a few important seconds. After ten seconds' frenetic paddling I stopped to deck up, noticing a strange clunking noise coming from my boat. Deck on, I returned to paddling and kept hearing the noise. Eventually I realised there was a sizeable rock/boulder in my kayak... cheers Lachie. Keeping up with the half dozen paddlers ahead of me I noticed that the majority of the were still deckless. Sure enough most of them stopped paddling before the first section of whitewater and spun round as they rushed to put them on. After paddling past these guys I trailed the two leaders for a few minutes before passing them and taking the lead.

In the little experience I have with mass-start downriver racing I've decided that getting the lead early is paramount - it's really hard to pass people and demoralising to chase down kayaks on flatwater. With my first goal accomplished it was time to settle in and swing those arms. Checking behind me every few minutes I was able to maintain a comfortable pace while keeping a good break on the chasers. The course on the Trisuli was a long one, mainly flatwater, with one notable class IV - Upset - and the rest small class II and III.

Upset is basically a big ramp with two sweet surf waves that feeds into one giant crashing wave/hole which is basically a gamble. I got lucky and Upset let me through unscathed, and from there out it was paddle, paddle, paddle for another half hour or so. Somewhere along the way (there was a lot of flatwater slog!) I noticed that the paddler behind me was starting to get closer. Turning back for another check I figured out it was Martin from the UK, whom I'd been paddling with a bunch before and a couple of friendly sprints showed that he was going to be tough competition. That was all the motivation I needed to keep the strokes flowing and from there out I managed to keep it straight through the boils and keep Martin at bay.

Then it was back into the mountains for some creeking.....

Mens All Nationalities Overall
1. Santa Maila Gurung (NPL) Slalom: 3rd, Freestyle 3rd, Downriver 5th. (Pyranha H3)
2. Nim Bahadur Magar (NPL) Slalom: 1st, Freestyle 9th, Downriver 9th. (Wavesport Diesel 75)
3. Sean Bozkewycz (AUS) Slalom: 7th, Freestyle 12th, Downriver 1st. (Wavesport Habitat 80)

Mens International Overall
1. Sean Bozkewycz (AUS)
2. Tuscany Foot (UK)
3. Teruhiko Katsuragawa (JPN)

Mens International Slalom
1. Kobu Takkeyasu (JPN)
2. Teruhiko Katsuragawa (JPN)
3. Sean Bozkewycz (AUS)

Mens International Freestyle
1. Tuscany Foot (UK)
2. Teruhiko Katsuragawa (JPN)
3. Sean Bozkewycz (AUS)

Mens International Downriver
1. Sean Bozkewycz (AUS)
2. Martin Hall (UK)
3. Tuscany Foot (UK)

Women's International/All Nationalities Overall
1. Sveta Timofeeva (RUS) Slalom: 1st, Freestyle 4th, Downriver 1st. (Liquid Logic Remix)
2. Monica Gokey (USA) Slalom: 2nd, Freestyle 5th, Downriver 2nd. (Dagger Nomad)
3. Ashley Courtney (CAN) Slalom: 3rd, Freestyle 2nd, Downriver 6th. (Dagger Mamba)

Women's International Slalom
1. Sveta Timofeeva (RUS)
2. Monica Gokey (USA)
3. Ashley Courtney (CAN)

Women's International Freestyle
1. Kate Walton (RSA)
2. Ashley Courtney (CAN)
3. Sveta Timofeeva (RUS)

Women's International Downriver
1. Sveta Timofeeva (RUS)
2. Monica Gokey (USA)
3. Hamna Wakabayashi (JPN)