ICF Classic Series: Liffey Descent (Ireland)
Using the words of a numerous Liffey paddlers "That's the Liffey!” and what a race it is. With the 2021 edition of the race coming up I thought I’d retrieve the old 2014 GoPro footage of my first attempt on this race and re-watch this superb ICF Marathon Classic Series event. For those unfamiliar, it is a race where the luck of the Irish can help greatly.
The descent of the river Liffey has been running since the 1960s, winding 28km from the K Club country club West of Dublin to the Garda Boat Club on the edge of Dublin. The blue-ribbon event is the K1 and K2 marathon classes with many recreational craft and down river racers taking part to lend a vibrant atmosphere to this race. Though the primary event is the marathon class K boats there are 10 steep weirs to drop and a substantial 500m portage past the weir at Salmon Leap Canoe Club which need to be negotiated.
My own preparation from this race started a few months before while in Denmark staying with Dave Francis a Irish paddler living there and regular competitor in the Danish Tour de Gudena. Dave sat me down at his kitchen table opened a laptop and started walking me through each rapid while curating a playlist of weirs in YouTube sharing stories of victories and misadventure on the Liffey over the years of racing.
As with any school lesson, this came with homework to memorise the approach angles, visual land marks to align my kayak to when entering and exiting the technical white water of the weirs. Of recent years the race organisers have put a great resource together with their own weir guide revealing to you the local paddlers secrets here.
Missing your homework could be the difference between winning or note winning. Obstacles such as fish boxes, nasty white-water features and weirs like Lucan (pictured below) require the correct entry angle so that when you slide down them you don’t break the nose of your kayak off, especially in K2.
With my homework memorised and some additional local knowledge kindly shared by the Salmon leap Canoe Club paddlers it needs to be said, nothing prepares you for the first weir carnage. The race is run on a flood provided by the local water authority so the weirs are un-run-able up until race day. This lack of experience (or terror) is compounded by the fast 500m sprint from the start line to the first and arguably most difficult weir to descend safely being the notorious Straffan weir.
The noise of the crowd and the banter from the commenter's loud speaker is all drowned out by the roaring sound of white water churning just on the horizon. Enjoy our onboard view of swimming this rapid on our first attempt below 😉.
After Straffan, the nerves are reduced somewhat until Palmerston Rapid towards the end of the race and many enjoyable fish ladders and weirs to slide down in between. It is worth noting that several of the weirs have “chicken shoots” or B lines which can be used to your advantage if you’re not as confident or it’s a big flood year or the water height allows. But this may require some more homework to learn.
Of worthy note is Gary Mawer’s win in 1996 where he demonstrated that even with a swim at the first weir, Straffan, you can have a clean run through with the fast-flowing deep water between weirs to catch the leaders and even win.
This race is overall a superb mix of kayak marathon speed endurance and technical white-water skills and highly recommended for the marathon paddler or white-water paddler visiting Ireland in September each year. The party afterwards is great fun too with the organisers getting the right mix of local music, food and Guinness to continue the great atmosphere of this tight Irish paddling community.
Best of luck to all competitors at the 62nd edition of the Liffey.
Race website here: https://www.liffeydescent.ie/
Banner photo: Craig Cummins (Salmon Leap Canoe Club)
- Kieran Babich