Machu Picchu Kayak Festival

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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 this past weekend, November 4-6th on the CocalMayo 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 professional races, through challenging rapids for expert racers, and a nice beginner stretch that can get everyone including, even SUP boarders. 

The festival began with a long, beautifully scenic drive over the 14,000ft mountain pass and down the other side where a true gathering of friends old and new awaited.  Over 60 racers gathered from 10+ countries for the first annual festival just downstream from Santa Teresa, Peru.

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The races began Saturday morning after a strong cup of Peruvian coffee got everybody moving.  The downriver race featured 3 categories: Professional, Expert and Beginner, each with there own respective section of river.  The Professional 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 didn’t give racers a break, or a chance to catch their breath.  The paddlers did there best to lay down the fastest time and as the safety team swept the course, the times were in.  Incredibly for the festival, 3 Peruvians battled into the top 5 with Adolfo (Rambito) Campana, Daniel Rondon and Freddy Levano taking 2nd, 3rd, and 5th respectively.  While Czech Repulican Mira Kodada claimed first prize, and I rounded out the top 5 in 4th place.  In the women’s category, Pavelina Zasterova sprinted to a 1st place finish, with Franziska Biechler and Alicia Lycan claiming 2nd and 3rd place.  

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The Downriver races all came to a close, as a mob of racers moved downstream through each section to the takeout.  Spectators and locals cheered as racers passed by, and more experienced paddles assisted in the safety as sprinted, floated and smiled their way down! 

Saturday afternoon brought hot Peruvian sunshine, a desperate need for water and more Boater Cross action than you could shake a stick at!  A 1 v. 1 format placed racers head to head 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. 4 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 claimed 4 wins on my way to 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.  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 BoaterX.
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

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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 a 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, a Giant slalom 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 Professional course featured  10 gates, while the beginner course was made up of the last 4. 

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Catalonian Aleix Salvat set the bar high after run 1, blistering through the finish line with a loud shout of delight.  The pressure put on all other competitors was too much as no one could step it up enough in run 2 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.  

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With all the racing completed, the entire festival mob again moved down the river, this time in a large Stoke Float, celebrating a successful and incredible weekend!  Moving down stream, just cruising, 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 in 5 years; I might not remember who won the races, but I will remember who I was there with, and that I had an amazing time!

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