Malabar River Fest

Monsoon clouds swirled into formation above and torrential rains thundered down below as World Class competitors from India, Asia and around the World descended on the Malabar River Festival in Kerala, India.  Now in its 6th year, the festival has grown from its humble beginnings and has sparked international interest, drawing in the best kayakers in the World.  It’s a week-long affair that encompasses a freestyle event and 3 races, while also promoting the development of kayaking in the area with several incredible, and competitive intermediate races. In addition to the incredibly welcoming community, delicious food and World Class kayaking; the passion for this festival from organizers Manek Taneja and Jacopo Nordera signal a bright future ahead.

The pro category battles for rank throughout the week in several events; beginning with a freestyle showdown before becoming fully race orientated. The Chalipuzha River hosts the main crowd, the festivities for opening ceremonies and the Giant Slalom and BoaterX races before the conclusion of the festival occurs via Super finals and closing ceremonies on the Irijanipura River.  The high level of competition, boosted by the stoke of the community and the local media presence creates an incredibly unique vibe for this growing festival.  


Following opening ceremonies and press conferences, the festival begins on the water with some good old fashioned freestyle.  Some of the best freestylers in the World descended upon a surprisingly amazing feature on the Kuttiyadi River.  3 waves lined up in a row created a dynamic competition that encouraged athletes to pick and choose the style they desired, and execute the tricks they could in a variety of ways.  Martina Wegman and Anna Bruno exchanged high flying rides in the women’s finals as they challenged each other for first place, whilst Nouria Newman flipped her way into 3rd place.  In the men’s category, Dane Jackson, Nick Troutman and Bren Orton cruised through the prelim’s before facing off for the top spot in the finals along with Gerd Sesrrasolses and myself.  Each with their own style, and on a constantly changing feature as the rains changed the water levels, they entertained the crowd.  Dane Jackson held on with a spectacular ride while Nick Troutman played to his technical strengths to secure 2nd, leaving Bren Orton to round out the podium in front of an enormous local crowd on day 1 of the Malabar River fest.

Women’s Freestyle Results Men’s Freestyle Results
1st – Martina Wegman (NED) 1st – Dane Jackson (USA)
2nd – Anna Bruno (USA) 2nd – Nick Troutman (CAN)
3rd – Nouria Newman (FRA) 3rd – Bren Orton (UK)
4th – Nicole Mansfield (USA) 4th – Kalob Grady (CAN)
5th – Molly Auger (UK) 5th – Gerd Serrasolses (ESP)

Day 2 of the festival transitioned to the strong scene of beginner and intermediate kayakers trying to break into the sport of kayaking in India.  Kayakers of all skill levels were encouraged to come and race on the Chalipuzha River and try their best as they faced off against a section of challenging gates on the Giant Slalom course.  Friends, family and bystanders packed both sides of the river for standing room only as over 60 beginners/intermediates blazed down the course.  Some racers, still working on fundamental skills and their white-water roll didn’t were not discouraged and they charged ahead all the same.  The stoke, support and smiles form everyone involved proves that a strong scene is developing in Kerala, India and the strength of the women and men that are going to start emerging from this area shouldn’t take anyone by surprise in the next few years.  


After a day of cheering for and encouraging all the new athletes in the sport, the 40+ racers in the pro category were ready to get back at.  Giant Slalom took place on the Chali with a series of 7 gates.  Racers were forced to be on point right from the start.  A 15ft tall ramp kicked things off and sent racers flying into the race course.  As is usually the case in racing, it was almost impossible to make up time if mistakes were made, so all competitors were looking to stay clean, perfect and fast for the entirety of the 90 second race.  Olympian and slalom powerhouse Mike Dawson displayed pristine precision and incredible power right out of gate, reminding everyone that they would need to be on another level to compete.  Dane Jackson’s name is always in contention and fellow slalom athlete Aaron Mann was fast and smooth.  Mike, Dane and Aaron locked down the top 3 spots in the prelims round whilst myself, and Gerd looked to improve by a few micro-seconds to gain ground in finals.  The women’s class featured some ridiculous race talent with Martina Wegman and Nouria Newman both boasting extensive slalom, and extreme racing backgrounds.  It was amazing to watch both women execute fast and powerful runs on round 1, and then take a step back, analyze and come back with even more perfect runs in finals.  Nouria executed a nearly flawless run and edged out Martina to take the victory and Nicole Mansfield stayed clean to jump into 3rd place.  In the Men’s final, Gerd displayed his natural race style and jumped from 5th to 2nd, but it wasn’t quite enough to take Mike Dawson down off the top of the podium while Dane Jackson held off Nick Troutman and myself to secure 3rd place.  With another day of racing in the rain complete, athletes were stoked to wind down and dry off as they prepared for Day 4 of the festival. 


Women’s Giant Slalom Results Men’s Giant Slalom Results
1st – Nouria Newman (FRA) 1st – Mike Dawson (NZL)
2nd – Martina Wegman (NED) 2nd – Gerd Serrasolses (ESP)
3rd – Nicole Mansfield (USA) 3rd – Dane Jackson (USA)
4th – Molly Auger (UK) 4th – Nick Troutman (CAN)
5th – Anna Bruno (USA) 5th – Kalob Grady (CAN)

The rains continued into Day 4 of the festival, but still couldn’t damper the excitement around the festival.  BoaterX was here.  4 at a time, down the ramp, through the slalom gates.  Contact encouraged,” rubbin’ is racing.”  The BoaterX race at any event is always a crowd favorite, but especially when that event is being watch by hundreds with limited knowledge on kayaking; the stoke was sky high.  All they see are collisions, flips, and excitement.  All action, all the time.  The women’s class was up to the challenge and kicked things off with their head to head race down the course.  Martina got off the a fast start and benefitted from a tangle within the others to make quick work of the gates and cruise to a victory.  The action all took place behind her, with the rest of the field colliding and crashing together.  Nouria fought back from a rough start to make things intense in the up gate, but ultimately couldn’t get ahead of Molly Auger who took 2nd place after a tight finish.  The Men started with a bracket of 32 with 4 races taking you to the finals.  Mike Dawson and I made quick work of our half of the bracket winning each of our first 2 races before meeting in semi-finals and rolling through to the finals.  On the other half of the bracket, Dane Jackson and Gerd Serrasolses rolled through the field before knocking out some very fast people in semi finals to meet Mike and myself for the final showdown.  The up gate in finals caused mass confusion as all 4 men tangled, Mike maintained his poise and got out the cleanest, making his way through the finish line 1st, followed by Dane, Gerd and myself to conclude an epic day of racing.  

Women’s BoaterX Results Men’s BoaterX Results
1st – Martina Wegman (NED) 1st – Mike Dawson (NZL)
2nd – Molly Auger (UK) 2nd – Dane Jackson (USA)
3rd – Nouria Newman (FRA) 3rd –Gerd Serrasolses (ESP)
4th – Nicole Mansfield (USA) 4th – Kalob Grady (CAN)
5th – Anna Bruno (USA) 5th – Nick Troutman (CAN)

Super finals, the moment we all wait for in every event.  For the final stage of the festival, the action moves to the bank of the Irijanipira River and the Malabar Express rapids.  Locals flooded the banks to catch a glimpse of the course as athletes visualized their lines and prepared for the final race of the weekend.  The top 20 men, and top 5 women from the week earned the right to race for the title of “Rani” and “Raji” or King and Queen of the Malabar River Fest 2018.  Racers had 2 runs each, fastest lap wins and the river was almost as high as the stoke in the air.  Rains continued to grace to festival pushing the levels continually higher over the course of the day.  Racers had received limited practice laps on this section and every stroke counted in the race.  After the 1st of 2 runs, Nouria and Martina held a sizeable advantage in the women’s class, and Mike Dawson, myself and Dane Jackson managed to hold down the top 3 in men’s.  Every racer learned from and improved upon their first lap and it all came down to an extremely competitive final run.  It was astonishing to see every racer in the top 5 improve on their original times as Adrian Mattern laid down a wicked fast time, only to be taken off the top spot by the final racer of the Day, Mike Dawson as he continued his dominance over the festival.  Dane, Gerd and myself all put our best forward to round out the top 5. 

Women’s Super-Finals Results Men’s Super-Finals Results
1st – Nouria Newman (FRA) 1st – Mike Dawson (NZL)
2nd – Martina Wegman (NED) 2nd – Adrian Mattern (GER)
3rd – Nicole Mansfield (USA) 3rd – Dane Jackson (USA)
4th – Molly Auger (UK) 4th – Gerd Serrasolses (ESP)
5th – Anna Bruno (USA) 5th – Kalob Grady (CAN)

The Malabar River Fest 2018 was an absolute pleasure to be a part of, and to compete in.  The comradery between athletes and the hospitality from the local kayakers is everything I look for in an international festival.  Every one was there for the same reasons; kayak world class rivers, hangout with friends, cheer each other on and spend time all the water.  Thank you to all who made the festival an incredible week, and see you all next year. 

Kalob Grady

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