A glorious way to live.
In early January, 29 athletes from 12 diverse countries converged upon the longest river in the world for UNLEASHEDxUganda, presented by SEND. The goal of UNLEASHED has always, and will always be the same: to create a competitive environment for the best whitewater athletes in the world to push themselves, and the sport of kayaking to new levels. This multi stage event facilitates progression in the sport, using the biggest whitewater in the world as the platform. Only eight months after an incredibly successful premier event last spring in Quebec; SEND has brought their progressive competition to the banks of the White Nile in Uganda for the second installment.
Five women and twenty-four men pushed themselves through four rigorous stages on the best waves and biggest rapids of the White Nile from January 5th – 12th.
Athletes competed in a Big Trick Freestyle on the Cuban Wave in the middle of the infamous Itanda falls rapid for Stage 1 - presented by Jackson Kayak. It was a Jam session styled freestyle event that promoted athletes to push themselves to the throw the biggest, best and most stylish combination of tricks. This first stage set the mood for the week with six swims, a few glorious crashes and some monstrous tricks.
Competitors moved upstream to the infamous Dead Dutchman rapid for Stage 2 presented by World Class Academy. A boaterX through a rapid that is rarely run, let alone raced. This prestigious, intertwined collection of exploding whitewater channels instilled fear into athletes as they lined up at the start line of this race.
Athletes enjoyed a more relaxed atmosphere as the Stage 3 presented by Kokatat was centered around the perfect Nile Special wave for a “best ride counts” freestyle competition. This stage was focused on style, air and fluidity to show off the best of big wave surfing.
The 4th and final stage presented by Dewerstone, and Jackson Kayak was designed to promote chaos and madness as all 29 athletes geared up for a mass start style race through the Hair of the Dog. This final stage was unpredictable and opened up up the possibility for huge shake-ups in the overall standings.
UNLEASHEDxUganda kicked off with a jam session styled freestyle competition that gave athletes 3 ½ hours to throw the biggest, most stylish and most creative tricks they could think of. This format allows athletes multiple chances to progress the limits of freestyle without the added pressure of having multiple tricks in one particular ride and takes away the risk of flushing on your hardest tricks. The best 3 tricks an athlete completed over the 3 ½ hours dictated the athletes result, and combo tricks were valued higher than single tricks as the increase in complexity in turn increased the value.
Recently crowned ICF World Freestyle Champion Quim Fontane from Catlonia (CAT) took the first ride of the day and instantly threw an airscrew that turned the competition up a notch. Heat 1 stepped up to the challenge and freestyle heavy hitters Dane Jackson (USA), Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA), Andrey Pesterov, (RUS) and Aiofe Hanrahan (IRE) began to raise the bar as they all made incredible use of their time on the water.
Highlights from the first heat included 17-year-old Junior ICF World Freestyle Champion Tom Dolle (FRA) showing absolutely no fear and charging through the thick of Itanda Falls to surf the Cuban Wave. In addition to Tom Dolle (FRA) crushing it, Tom Dunhpy (IRE) laid it out with a massive back-pan am and Adrian Mattern (GER) claimed it for the crowd after having his helmet snatched off his head after a hefty helix.
Heat 2 featured a brilliant international cast that were prepared to match and surpass the bar set by heat 1. Bren Orton (UK), Darby McAdams (USA), Raoul Collentour (NED), and Kalob Grady (CAN) sent it ride after ride, trying to match the high level of tricks put forth by Quim Fontana (CAT) and Dane Jackson (USA) in heat 1.
Highlights of heat 2 included Amina Nakirya (UGA) fighting her way back to the wave after a savage swim early in the heat. In addition to Anima’s honey badger effort, heat 2 encompassed Bartosz Czaudera (POL) shredding every ride, 14-year-old Kaelin Friedenson (USA) displaying that he belongs in this competition and Sadat Kawawa (UGA) putting on a show for the entirety of the local crowd.
An astonishing day 1 of UNLEASHEDxUganda saw Dane Jackson (USA) with substantial combo tricks, placing him at the top of the podium as he looks to defend his UNLEASHED title. Bren Orton (UK), Kalob Grady (CAN), Quim Fontane (CAT) and Bartosz Czaudera (POL) earned places in the top 5 with a variety of large, stylish aerial maneuvers and creative combo’s. Local shredder Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA) claimed 6th place in front of a home crowd and proved to the entire athlete field to not count him out over the course of the competition. In the women’s division, defending UNLEASHED champion Darby McAdams (USA) took the top place in stage 1, while early front runner for the honey badger award Amina Nakirya persevered through early troubles to claim second place. Aoife Hanrahan (IRE) rounded out the top 3.
The safety challenges of holding an event on a rapid as extensive as the Dead Dutchman were not overlooked. The severity of the situation if an athlete became separated from their boat was the organizers biggest fear, and the safety plan reflected this anxiety. The athletes racing were the primary safety team, as they would be the closest to a paddler in trouble, with secondary safety teams set in high traffic positions.
The breakdown of the format used for the Dead Dutchman BoaterX was as follows: 20 men started the day in 4 heats of 5 racers. The top 3 athletes from each preliminary heat advanced to the semi-finals round which included 2 heats of 6. Again, the top 3 athletes from each heat advanced and made up the final race of 6 athletes. The women’s race consisted of 2 athletes that stepped up to the challenge of the Dead Dutchman and these fearless women went head to head in a single round.
The action was fast, chaotic and glorious from the first “GO”. Men’s prelims immediately exposed that anything can happen in the unpredictable madness of this high volume boater, with high ranked contenders Bren Orton (UK) and Kalob Grady (CAN) not advancing past their first race. This left the field open for young guns, Tom Dolle (FRA) and Kaelin Friedenson (USA), to exhibit exceptional skills in besting their past teachers in the preliminary round.
Semi-finals unveiled two more hectic races with numerous changes in racers positions throughout the race course. Heat 1 revealed a hard fought race in which Dane Jackson (USA), Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA), and Kaelin Friedenson (USA) avoided elimination to move into the finals. Heat 2 involved a chaotic finish for 3rd place as Quinton Kennedy (CAN) came from the very back to snag the last ticket to finals alongside Sadat Kawawa (UGA) and Raoul “Honey Badger” Collenteur (NED).
The women’s finals included two fearless kayakers; local crusher and emerging honey badger Amina Nakirya (UGA) and defending UNLEASHED champion Darby McAdams (USA). The two brave women battled it out through the crux of the Dead Dutchman until Amina got pulled wayward by a large whirlpool. Darby stayed focused and on-line through the entirety of the rapid to earn her 2nd stage victory in UNLEASHEDxUganda.
Men’s finals fielded an enticing combination of competitors as 14-year-old Kaelin Friedenson (USA) lined up against stage 1 winner Dane Jackson (USA), Raoul “Honey Badger” Collenteur (NED), Quinton Kennedy (CAN), and local shredders Sadat Kawawa (UGA) and Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA). Sadat Kawawa (UGA) built on his early sprint and took a commanding lead of the finals as the chase pack tangled and crashed in a magnificent fashion through the crux move. Dane Jackson (USA) and Raoul “Honey Badger” Collenteur (NED) mingled on a seam line for the better part of the length of a football field and came away mostly unscathed. Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA) took advantage of this collision to storm into 2nd place while Dane Jackson (USA) recovered from his misfortunes to seize the final spot on the podium of the first ever race held on the notorious Dead Dutchman.
The stoke was high as we arrived at Nile Special in preparation for a technical freestyle competition on this progressively significant wave. However, in the back of everybody’s minds was the knowledge of the monolithic concrete structure just downstream that is slowly ticking down the time that we have left with this dreamlike destination. The Isimba Dam is a controversial hydroelectric project that will flood a large portion of the remaining whitewater on the top section of the White Nile in addition to displacing 3000 inhabitants from their local villages. The locations of the first 2 stages, Itanda Falls and the Dead Dutchman will be relatively unaffected by the project, but Nile Special is destined for a different fate. Upon completion of this high cost hydroelectric project later this spring, Nile Special will be the first of many rapids to slowly sink into the depths of the Isimba reservoir.
To ensure premium water levels for every ride throughout the day, organizers and athletes unanimously decided for an early start. As soon as the judge’s camera, the media team and heat 1 athletes were in place, things got rolling.
The format for stage 3 was simple, every athlete was given 6 rides, with a max time of 90 seconds per ride. There was no trick limit and the athletes’ best ride was the only one that counted. The scoring system used, created by SEND was a little more complex. Three judges were assigned different roles as they scored the ride. Judge 1 focused on the validity of the tricks thrown, and assigning an amplitude bonus if it applied. Judge 2 focused on the style of the athletes’ tricks, assigning an overall steeze score to the ride. Judge 3 looked over the fluidity of the entire ride and assigned a flow multiplier based on how active and smooth a rider was on the wave. The overall objective of this new scoring system was to reward style, air and fluidity, and to encourage riders to work the wave to their advantage instead of waiting for the wave to provide a pass. Upon conclusion of stage 3, all four organizers were exhilarated with how well the system functioned in a real competition as the day unfolded.
Heat 1 hit the wave as water levels continued to rise into prime time flows. Dane Jackson (USA) took the wave first as the overall event leader after 2 stages and set the bar high, really high! Athletes took advantage of the progressive score system to work the perfect wave and throw huge tricks. Knowing they only needed a single ride to score, riders left it all on the line and pushed each other to the highest limits.
Quim Fontane (CAT) kept in stride with Dane Jackson throughout heat 1 and displayed his pure athleticism on his final ride with explosive, stylish tricks that propelled him onto the podium.
Quinton Kennedy (CAN) stole the show in heat 2 with one astonishing ride in which he laid down massive tricks in succession to continue his remarkable week of kayaking. Kalob Grady (CAN) took the water in heat 3 and recovered from his misfortunes in the Dead Dutchman BoaterX with a stack of consistent, high scoring rides. David Silk (USA) came back to life after taking off Stage 2 with an injury to thrill the crowd with a massive sasquatch, which was easily one of the biggest tricks of the day.
The women’s skills were on full display as they took to the wave. Darby McAdams (USA) led the women off with and incredible ride, exhibiting exactly why she is the defending UNLEASHED champion. Katie Kowalski (CAN) showcased her background as an Ottawa Valley girl and drew from her big wave experience to shred Nile Special. Lowri Davies (UK) also flashed feats of her big wave prowess with an amazing final ride to secure her place on the podium.
The day started with limitless potential in regards to establishing UNLEASHEDxUganda as a progressive freestyle competition. A new scoring system, in combination with a perfect wave gave the athletes full creative control to display their skills at the highest level. The bittersweet thought that this beautiful place is going to disappear in the near future did not restrict the amount of stoke shared among athletes throughout the day. The conclusion of the Nile Special freestyle was followed by good ol’ lifestylin’ times as athletes floated down to the Hairy Lemon Island to celebrate the success of stage 3, and the good times in general.
The Hair of the Dog race was a perfect finale, as the confusion and chaos of a 29-competitor mass start race would ensure a shake up in the overall standings. Athletes shuffled across the vast channel in attempt for a straight line and fair start. There was no countdown, just a loud “GO” broke the silence followed by the roar of 29 blades churning the water. There were different strategies amongst the athletes; some chose to burst out of the start and try to take the lead, others stayed more relaxed, settling into the middle of the pack and waited to make their moves later on.
Bartosz Czauderna (POL) got off to a fast start, leading the crowd of competitors around the bend and into the first set of small waves. Hot on his tail was the crowd of racers in pursuit as they settled into more of a line and less of a cluster. Craig Ayers (UK) and Alan Ward (UK) took advantage of Bartosz Czauderna (POL) cutting the first corner too tight and overtook him as they commenced their own battle for the lead. Kalob Grady (CAN) and Dane Jackson (USA) patiently waited through the opening section of the rapids before making a big move. Most racers chose to take a direct line high above the mandatory move rock, while Craig Ayers (UK), Kalob Grady (CAN) and Dane Jackson (USA) opted to take the move wide and stay in the current. Quim Fontane (CAT), Sadat Kawawa (UGA) and Yusuf Basalirwa (UG) also took advantage of this faster line and entered the final set in swift pursuit of the lead three.
Kalob Grady (CAN) made a quick pass of Craig Ayers (UK) entering the final set of waves and kept the lead all the way through to the finish. Dane Jackson (USA), Quim Fontane (CAT), and Sadat Kawawa (UK) also navigated the last section well and surpassed Craig Ayers (UK). The top 6 made quick work of a clean finish, and now had the absolute best seats in the house to watch the unfolding battles as 23 other athletes stormed into the final eddy. The climax of the week had arrived and the stoke was in full swing.
The women’s race took place simultaneously with the men’s for this grand finale to UNLEASHEDxUganda. The women tangled right from the get go and Lowri Davies (UK) got off to a clean start with the lead pack as the flock of racers battled around the first corner. Darby McAdams (USA) was sharp and focused at the start line, looking to sweep all 4 stages of the women’s competition. But Lowri Davies (UK) managed to stay clean through the dynamic waves and held on through the finishing stretch to edge out Darby McAdams (USA) for the victory. Katie Kowalski (CAN) charged into the finish line strong and took 3rd place whilst Aoife Hanrahan (IRE) and Amina Nakirya (UGA) fell into misfortunes early on the race course and fought hard to the finish.
All UNLEASHEDxUganda competitors displayed incredible skill throughout the entire week, in addition to impressive physical and mental stamina to conquer everything the Nile had to offer. Dane Jackson (USA) and Darby McAdams (USA) both defended their UNLEASHED titles, with local forces Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA) and Amina Nakirya (UGA) taking 2nd place in their respective categories. These two Ugandan legends, along with Sadat Kawawa (UGA) and Musa Mutamba (UGA) displayed all week long the level of talent and passion that the native kayakers of the Nile have to offer. Canadians Kalob Grady (CAN) and Katie Kowalksi (CAN) showed off the big water instincts of their homeland to finish off the 3rd place podium positions.
Enormous thanks to Nile River Explorers for hosting us throughout the week and providing an incredible water-based venue for our awards. Also to Dewerstone, Jackson Kayak, Kokatat and World Class Academy for stepping up and supporting this event as it moves forward. Your support is greatly appreciated!
1st Dane Jackson
2nd Yusuf Basalirwa
3rd Kalob Grady
4th Quim Fontana
5th Sadat Kawawa
6th Tom Dolle
7th Raoul Collenteur
8th Quentin Kennedy
9th Craig Ayres
10th Bartosz Czauderna
11th Jakob Hanoulle
12th Kaelin Friedenson
13th Tom Dunphy
14th Andrey Pesterev
15th Seth Ashworth
16th Alan Ward
17th Musa Mutumba
18th Val Bernard
19th Nick Beavis - Did not compete in all stages
20th Bren Orton - Out with an injury after 2nd event
21st Adrian Mattern - Out with an injury after 3rd event
22nd David Silk - Did not compete in stage 2 due to injury
23rd Seb Clermont - Did not compete at all stages
24th LP Rivest - Out with an injury after Stage 1
1st Darby McAdams
2nd Amina Nakirya
3rd Katie Kowalski
4th Lowri Davies
5th Aoife Harrahan