Friday, December 01, 2006

Nile Freestyle Festival - day 1

The first day of the Nile Freestyle Festival kicked off with a truck load of kayaks and paddlers heading down to Itanda, one of the well known grade six rapids on the river. The morning was to start with an Itanda “expression session” where the paddlers familiar with the rapid would paddle down and “express themselves” through either the lines they chose or by the freestyle moves the decide to pull off in features that most of us would avoid going into at all costs.
Anyway the truck ride itself was great, we had about 25 kayaks and people in the truck I followed the lead of Becky and perched myself on top of some kayaks up the front of the truck. Because Itanda is far way downstream (I’ve included a map of the river for clarity here) of the dam and the water from the hydro only releases from 8am, when we arrived at 11am the water was still very low, lower than I had ever seen it and everyone jumped off the trucks and sprinted to the rapid to check out the rocks that are usually under water and the new lines that had opened up in the lead in to the rapid.
The rapid was still impressive and intimidating, over half a kilometer of serious grade five white water, only a few people entered the session the rest were on the banks with video cameras, cameras and just to watch. As I was going back up to the truck to get my camera I somehow got roped into being a safety kayaker for the event so I got into my gear and sat in the eddy half way down the rapid. Sitting there, I contemplated the logic of me being safety – after all the kayakers I would be rescuing were by far better paddlers than myself and rapid was not exactly one I would be happy to try and rescue someone in.... about all I could do is paddle down after them and pick them up at the bottom. But luckily no one got into any trouble so I just got to sit there and pretend I was about rescue anyone that needed it. After some impressive paddling at Itanda (including Becky who was the only girl to run it) we all headed on down the day 2 section of river to the Nile Special wave for the Big Trick competition, on the way down I managed to fall out of my kayak in a flat section while trying to stretch my legs and got rescued by Joffrey – who still calls me Sala – which was unnecessary but funny at the same time.
Down at Nile Special the 21 competitors were divided into three heats of 7, each heat having a 45 minute open session on the wave where competitors could have as many rides as they wanted to try for the biggest move they could pull off. The bank next to the wave was crowed with spectators, including many locals dressed up in their Sunday best and the Chapati Man from Bujagali who, complete with chapatti stove and table had been transported down to the wave for the event.
The six girls in the comp were spread evenly across the heats although we were judged separately from the men, the top 3 women and top 5 men were to go through to a final 30 minute heat to decide the winners. With this style of comp it’s all about how big you can go, getting your boat airborne while executing a freestyle move. With a few big names like Steve Fisher and Ben Brown in the comp there was plenty to make the crowd cheer.
The girls got out there and gave it a go but most of us don’t like using the rope to get on the wave, instead we walk around and drop in on the wave from the eddy above which meant we all missed the wave a lot and did a lot of running up the bank. Rae and Jessie used the rope and it was clear that they would both be in the finals. The rest of us were all pretty hopeless and in the end it was Andrea that pulled off some unknown move and made the final.
The men’s final was exciting with world renowned Steve Fisher almost being beaten by Sam, a UK boater in his first competition. Both of then pulled of combination moves however Steve’s ability to get airborne saw him take first while Sam well and truly earned second. Rae’s many days of practice on the wave paid off as she beat Jessie to take first in the women’s and Andrea showed guts by dropping in to the wave from a pitch black eddy above to secure third in the women’s. Then most of us paddled off the Hairy Lemon for spit roast pig while those heading back to Bujagali had the joy of getting the trucks stuck in the mud and getting back at 2am while we were all asleep on our island in the Nile.


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