The energy was incredible, held within the valley by the towering Andean peaks and contagious from person to person, friend to friend.
The first annual Machu Picchu Kayak Festival was held November 4-6th on the Cocal Mayo section of the incredible and remote Urubamba River. The section of river, located just downstream of the famous Incan Ruins – Machu Picchu – is an absolute treasure. Featuring sections of Class 5+ for the pro races, through challenging rapids for expert racers, and a nice beginner stretch that allowed all participates, even SUP boarders.
The festival began with a long, beautiful scenic drive over the 14,000ft mountain pass, then down the other side where a true gathering of friends, old and new, awaited. Over 60 racers gathered from more than 10 countries for the first annual festival, just downstream from Santa Teresa, Peru.
The races began Saturday morning after a strong cup of Peruvian coffee got everybody moving. The downriver race featured three categories: Pro, Expert and Beginner, each with their own respective section of river. The pro race featured an 8km (5 mile) section that just didn’t stop. As continuous as it gets, this section delivered rapid after rapid of peaking waves and bus-stopping holes that didn’t give racers a break or a chance to catch their breath. The competitors did their best to lay down the fastest time. Three Peruvians battled into the top 5 with Adolfo (Rambito) Campana, Daniel Rondon and Freddy Levano taking 2nd, 3rd, and 5th respectively. Czech Republican Mira Kodada claimed 1st, and I rounded out the top 5 in 4th place for Canada. In the women’s, Pavelina Zasterova sprinted to a 1st place finish, with Franziska Biechler and Alicia Lycan claiming 2nd and 3rd place.
The downriver races all came to a close as a mob of racers moved downstream through each section to the takeout, with spectators and locals cheering to them as they passed.
Saturday afternoon brought hot Peruvian sunshine and a desperate need for water, with more Boater Cross action than you could shake a stick at! A head to head format placed racers one on one down a 200-meter course. The course featured dynamic moves, intriguing lines and an intimidating 25ft start ramp that literally launched competitors into the top of the rapid. Four wins would get you into finals, and that is what Peruvian Adolfo (Rambo) Campana did, knocking off fellow country man Julio Baca in the process during the Semi-Finals. I also made finals, defeating good friends Aleix Salvat, Arnau Minguella and Nacho Roberts along the way. Rambo and I drew sticks for the inside line on the ramp, and then we were off for the final run. The rain starting pouring as we pushed off down the ramp. I had the inside line and never gave it up, crashing into the finish line with a shout of joy, being stoked to take 1st place in the Boater Cross.
The women battled out a 3-way finals with Pavelina Zasterova taking her second victory of the day, Franziska Biechler cruising in for 2nd, and Georgi Preston taking 3rd. With the rain pouring down, and the races completed for the day, it was time to turn to full festival mode! We all returned to the lodge that we referred to as summer camp (due to the 4 person per room sleeping situations) and continued on to a have quite a memorable evening!
The eventful evening led to a slow paced start in the morning; gathering and moving kayakers towards the river for the final event took some motivating. Once we were on the river, things moved quickly. Gates were fine-tuned, judges were briefed, and racers scouted there lines. The pro course featured ten gates, while the beginner course was made up of the last four gates.
Catalonian Aleix Salvat set the bar high after his first run, blistering through the finish line with a loud shout of delight. The pressure was on for the competitors second run, but no one was able to knock down Aleix as he claimed top honors in the Giant Slalom. Mira Kodada and I rounded out the top 3, each claiming our second podium honors of the weekend. An amazing time had by all
With all the racing completed, the entire festival mob once again headed down the river to the takeout, this time in a large “stoke float”, celebrating a successful and incredible weekend! Cruising down stream, hitting the fun lines, chatting with the person closest to you no matter the language; these are the moments that are truly remembered, and the hidden reason behind my addiction to kayaking. Looking back on this festival next month, next year, or five years from now, I might not remember who won the races, but I will remember an amazing time spend with friends from around the world!