9 amateur races you should paddle after the lockdown ends
Lockdown is boring, so let’s plan for when it's finished with some of the best amateur races to paddle around the world
While some parts of the world are in lock-down, others going into it, and some starting to come out of quarantine it’s hard to keep focus on our paddling goals. We will admit, it is hard to set goals when so many club races, National and World Championships, and even the Olympic events are being deferred or canceled until 2021. So, we think it is a perfect time to set new goals and plan new paddling adventures to keep us focussed and fit.
To help you start your planning we have put together a list of some of the best places and races you should go with your surfski, kayak, wildwater kayak, or canoe after the lockdown and this whole Covid-19 nightmare is over.
Dusi Canoe Marathon, SOUTH AFRICA (February)
The Dusi Canoe Marathon famous for its mountain running portages, big rapids and epic weirs has become a playground for international paddlers to dabble in the art of South African river racing. With local talents such as Hank McGregor and Andy Birkett’s medal cabinets gleaming with World Championship gold, you know this race will not disappoint not to mention international regulars such as Adrian Boros (Hungary) and Kiko Vega (Spain).
The 3 stages of the Dusi race accumulate to a total of 124kms river miles including approximately 15km of portaging. These river miles include many safe unassumingly named rapids such as Cabbage Tree, Taxi, Gauging Weir, Cascade Slide as the Dusi winds through the Valley of a Thousand Hills. These names don’t let the paddler know just how hard some of these can be, nor does it mention the numerous rapids which aren’t big enough to attract their own names.
A great atmosphere up against a tough river with some of the best in the world competing with you.
Waterland Marathon, NETHERLANDS (April)
Amsterdam the city of bicycles, windmills and canals is a perfect place for a hard, fast, and windy race. The date of this race in April each year turns this race into an unofficial world cup with some of the best names in marathon kayaking such as José Leonel Ramalho, Emilio Merchan and ocean ski stars such as Sean Rice coming out to test their competitor’s fitness after a long European winter.
The Viking Kayak and Canoe Club organise this international race with easy kayak hire an interesting course, mass start, and a really unique portage that all combine to guarantee a fun fast time. Following the mass start, those who are left off the front are challenged by chop and waves bouncing off the canal walls as the course winds through cute Dutch villages, boathouses, and through many bridges. There are a few points in the race where public boats will block bridges as they pass under but don’t be surprised if you see your competitors' portage over the bridge and continue paddling behind the blocked bridge. A great test of your speed and endurance you’ll also need portage skills to ram the nose of your kayak onto land for one of the most famous portages in paddling.
If offered, make sure you secure a spot on the evening walking tour of Amsterdam run by some of the club members to see the city’s bars, sights and learn some history through the perspective of a local.
Potsdam Kanal Sprint, GERMANY (August)
This race may not be open to all paddlers but it is a sensational spectator event in the city centre of Potsdam City. Sprint kayakers race in K1, K2, C1 and C2 through a shallow 1m deep 150m long course lined with spectators cheering them on.
The racing never stops with the new starters beginning their head to head race in each lane every 3min through the heats until the finals. This means that the waves from each heat just keep building as they bounce off the sides of the canal walls to favour the fastest and most balanced paddlers.
The timing of this race allows the best sprinters to be in top racing form being close to the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cups and World Championships when many international teams are still in Europe training and competing.
International Český Krumlov River Marathon, CZECHIA (October)
Similar in nature to the Liffey Descent with its weirs this race is a slightly different beast. Starting in a wooded valley below a dam and finishing in a World Heritage Village that looks like the inspiration for Disneyland this race is superb fun. Attracting some of the best paddlers in Eastern Europe with the likes of Josef Dostal, Ronald Rauhe and other top German sprinters frequently entering the race you won’t be stuck for a fast boat to keep pace with.
A few hundred metres from the start of the race is a narrow weir which acts as a bottleneck thinning the field down as they drop through this weir. The presence of this weir makes for an extremely fast start dodging downriver kayaks without rudders and jostling for position to get a clean descent. Once through this first rapid, there is fast-moving water until the compulsory portage. After the portage, there is a long stretch of flat water during which you won’t want to be alone for as it’s a good time to work as a group and break away from your rivals.
The novelty of this race is that the fun really starts when you’re fatigued, with the final few kilometres into town challenging you with several weirs to test you all the way to the finish line. Passing many tourists enjoying the restaurants along the river you’ll need to save the holiday until later and work hard all the way to the finish as you never know when your competitor has been slowed by a swim at a weir. Relatively speaking though, the weirs in the Krumlov are not particularly technical when compared to the Liffey Descent or Dusi River. They generally only require general boat skills and the ability to point and shoot straight down them to successfully send them.
The Czechs know how to put on a show so make sure to stay awhile to enjoy the races afterparty and what this beautiful area has to offer.
Liffey Descent, IRELAND (September)
This race is some serious fun! If the Sella wins for its atmosphere the Liffey is the paddlers race for its river. Having technical weirs to slide your kayak down and long deep pools of crisp crystal water to race through it allows both the experienced wildwater paddler and sprinter to be evenly matched down this 32-kilometre course.
500m after the ‘stationary’ Irish rolling start Straffan Weir forces a mad dash to the front for a clean line down one of the more technical weirs of the race. If you want to do well in this race you will need to complete some YouTube study to understand the best line down the 8 weirs into the Irish capital of Dublin.
The technicality of the race has seen many British, Danish, German, South African and Australian crews try their luck against the river or partner up with a local in the K2 class to compete. Strong pairings in the mixed K2 class are regularly seen with many men and women teaming up to be competitive against the open men’s teams if they have a clean run down with no swims.
Regata del Rio Negro, ARGENTINA (January)
One of the few remaining kayak stage races in the world, this race on the Black River bordering Patagonia has in recent years been an off-season favourite of Spanish National Team paddlers seeking some adventure against the best in South America.
The racing of the Regata del Rio Negro is similar to the Tour de France with large packs of K1s and K2s forming each day after mass starts and breakaways being reeled in. The racing occurs over 8 days to the ocean in the city of Viedma.
The hospitality, heat, and competition are sensational with racing regularly happening on 40-degree days and a sun that demands you wear sun cream. If you do like the heat you’ll definitely like the heat of competition with past winners of the race producing some of Argentina’s best paddlers with the likes of Daniel Dal Bo and youngster Fran Balboa regularly competing in this event.
Kayaks can be acquired locally quite cheaply through the local manufacturers but we do recommend taking your paddle and pump to install for the race as available kit is hard to find come race day.
Descenso Internacional del Sella, SPAIN (August)
Possibly one of the most well-known starts in canoeing world with the Le Mond style run and gates holding the paddlers blades locked until the final moment. There is no other canoe race like it! Additional to the adrenalin filled start the atmosphere of this race is built up with the locomotive train that follows the race down the river, a music festival and an after party to rival all other races.
The 19km race is started by the provincial anthem of Asturias and then thrashes around the corner on swift moving flood waters. The river which is usually quite mild in difficulty is made challenging by 2000 craft made up of K1’s, K2’s, C1’s and C2’s which create a large amount of waves and kayak log jams. It’s not uncommon for the paddler next to you unable to find water to put their paddle in, to instead use your stomach to push their paddle off… you’ve been warned.
This area of Spain, Asturias, is a breeding ground for top Spanish paddlers so no matter where you go along the north coast you’ll find great paddling and paddlers of all types. There are rocky steep creeks such as the Rio Deva or Alto Sella to scrape your K1 down or the swell of the Atlantic Ocean to ride a downwind run into one of the many picturesque coastal villages.
To keep the partner or family interested this area has great dairy, cidar, and delicious local cuisine to quiet any protests of a paddling holiday.
Molokai Challenge, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (May)
This is the biggest and most prestigious ocean ski race with a 53km crossing the Ka’iwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu islands of Hawaii. You know you’re in for an epic day when the channel you’re crossing translates to the “Channel of Bones”. If this isn’t on your ocean ski bucket list, it should be.
Once the logistics of this race are organised with surfski rented and support boat locked in the next piece to think about is the racing line and how you do this race. The conditions will largely determine which line you take across the channel with the three general lines being; direct (flat conditions), then the north line or south lines to take advantage of the swell or wind at different times of your race. If you’re undecided, just follow the leader. The top paddlers would have already consulted the wind and weather gods for you.
The Molokai has a variety of classes to complete this race from OC1 through 6, prone paddleboard and of course the surfski class. Those less experienced or fit may consider completing this race in a relay to enjoy the amazing Channel of Bones with a group of friends.
No matter how you do this race, the Molokai Challenge is a spectacular accomplishment for anyone who completes it in an amazing tropical location.
Adige Marathon ITALY (October)
Set amongst northern Italy’s spectacular beauty the valley of the Adige River is breathtaking. This 36km river race has a few large rapids and strong flow to keep you moving quickly through the beautiful valley. Probably the only river race accommodating for the long K4’s you will want to be fast and clean out of the crazy start to get in with a fast group.
At the end of the day, this region has been slammed by Covid-19 so once the pandemic is over the natural beauty and superb river race is a great excuse to spread some tourism dollars to help Italy’s recovery from this horrible virus.
Thanks for reading what we think are the best amateur races to paddle, but we’d like to hear what you think? Drop a comment below with a link to a video of your local club race or favourite race that any paddler can enter once the Covid-19 is over.
- Kieran Babich