ICF Marathon Classic Series: Cesky Krumlov (Czech Republic)
What does paddling have in common with mosh pits and World Heritage?
The Czech Republic’s Krumlovsky Vodacky Marathon is a wildwater marathon kayak race with a difference. Set on a river with weirs similar to the Liffey Descent this race takes paddlers from the bottom of a hydroelectric dam into the majestic, Disney like, UNESCO World Heritage town of Český Krumlov.
As a tourist town the local paddlers know how to put on a seriously professional race which is excellent fun. Starting with the Friday night sprint races in the town paddlers are pitched against each other in waves in a boater-cross style competition to win the short course bragging rights. The winning paddlers of each run progress to the next round while learning to negotiate the weirs at speed with other paddlers by your side. This is a great spectacle for the tourists and paddlers alike with some paddlers swimming in the heated, fast and furious style of racing.
Czech and German sprinters like Josef Dostal, World Champion, make appearances in this end of season event. Many showing their paddling heritage in wild water racing or slalom with their skills to negotiate a K1 down the rapids.
The start of the Krumlovsky race is cold, with water coming out of the bottom of the weir that hasn’t seen the sun for some time. This is soon forgotten as the fight for staying upright begins while waiting on the start, trying not to tangle your paddle in the start line string spanned across the river. Once the string is lifted it’s a case of dodgem carts as rudderless down river kayaks are thrown left and right with the waves of other kayaks off the start.
The need for speed is crucial in this race as 1800m after the start line the whole field of approximately 400 K1s filter into a single weir the width of a single car lane. Some paddlers took the option to line up politely and wait. Other paddlers kept paddling up the side of the que to cram their way onto the weir with those behind shouting their dislike of this race etiquette.
Several weirs later and the field spreads out to trade wash leads with those you find yourself with through the long flat section to the portage in the middle of this race. The portage is a real party being the start line for the stand up paddleboard (SUP) and raft paddlers who are entertained by the crew from Red Bull. The kayakers who portage this section are offered shot glasses of energy drink as they run over the short stretch of land.
As you come near the finish line the crowds grow at each weir and the weirs become more frequent dropping several of them in the finishing kilometres. The crowds of tourists in the cafes and restaurants cheer as you come past which is a nice boost to concentrate after a long 36km race.
The idyllic setting of the finish line, and wonderful forested river are nice. However, what sets this race apart is the after party. The post-race party is a great way to trade stories of the river and celebrate with smooth Czech beer, heavy metal band, mosh-pit and in a brewery next to the river. Wicked fun…that is both the racing and the party.
- Kieran Babich