This year the festival not only changed dates but also had new organizers, Sam and Emily the new owners of Kayak the Nile. I’ll start this blog post by thanking them for doing a great job making the festival enjoyable for both the competitors and spectators.
Nile Special Play Wave
The format for the weekend started on Thursday with big air ramp, Friday was the extreme endurance race that ran from the silverback dam to the Hairy lemon (40km), Saturday was freestyle on Nile Special wave and Sunday the Hendry Coetzee Itanda extreme race.
I’ve spent the last 8 months working here in Uganda for Kayak the Nile and Love it Live it as a coach and guide on the Nile River but I’m going to write this review based on my experience of the festival. After a long days work on Thursday I was straight off the river and down to the big air ramp at NRE campsite. NRE being my base for work you would have expected that I should have seen it if not tried the big air ramp previously. However coming off a 7-week work stint I wasn't so lucky. When I did get down to give it a go I was happily surprised by the quality of the ramp. It was amazing, so good that a few competitors even competed in their carbon boats. The competitors ranged from experts to total beginners trying everything from airscews, face plants, and sliding trough flames covered in petrol to riding other competitors down the ramp. Judging was based on how cool the move looked, skill and quality of the move and if it was very special you even won a free Nile Special beer to enjoy whilst watching the other competitors. I was very lucky to pick up fist place, which I think was based on constant flirting and winking at the judges and not landing on my face off the ramp. That night the party in the bar was just as much fun with a lot of zappa and funnels drunk by the majority of the competitors.
Quick nap before the race
The next morning I woke up early to try and get rid of my hangover with bacon and egg burgers and a lot of water and coke! Luckily I managed to sort myself out in the nick of time for what I think was the most difficult race of my life. Just so people know my background, I have a lot of years of experience in endurance sports ranging from down river, to mountain biking, to marathon running, adventure racing, etc. and that's just naming a few. So I was teamed up with Sam for the race and I was excited to compete. I thought this was a strong area of my paddling, I knew the river and I had a strong partner however I was in for a surprise. I’ve now been paddling the Jed for the past year and it has to be the perfect size for me. I’m 80kg and well able to handle this boat. However within the first 50 meters of the 40km race I realized when it comes to racing on flat water in this boat I was way too heavy. I followed Sam for most of the race trying to keep at his pace but the effort I was putting in was too much for the distance. I spent the whole race trying to see if I could speed up by changing my stroke technique, I was pushing my weight further back in my boat but there was no change. I had a few moments where all I could do was count my strokes and compare my stroke rate to Sam’s. It was ridiculous! My stroke rate was 2-3 times higher than Sam’s. We started to fall behind the front runners and Sam being his cheerful self kept me entertained by telling me jokes and calling me fat, which actually made me keep a good stroke rate up for the race. There was a stage where we were approaching Itanda and I needed to make the decision to run or portage, of course being my stubborn self I was fully convinced I would be ok. Thankfully I was ok with not the most stylish line ever but a cramp in my left chest muscle at the top didn't put me in the best position for the rest of the rapid and following that my left groin muscle cramped up just as I hit the bad place. All in all a great run down the hardest rapid on the river. Following that I made a promise to myself that when I turn 95 ill come back and run Itanda as I felt that old at the top. When we approached the finish in 8th position we were greeted with an obstacle course followed by a funnel which I refused to do with beer and did 3 cokes instead. I was then ridiculed by the lovely girls who were giving out the funnels for not doing the funnel of beer. I had to take this on the chin like a man so I went to bed at 9 straight after dinner.
After 11 hours of sleep I woke for breakfast the next morning feeling the total opposite of ready for the freestyle event. After breakfast I did what most athletes do I went back to bed like a baby needing a nap after food, I was so broken from the race the day before. When I returned after my nap I went to get some of lunch before the comp started. While I sat there and struggled to eat I was shown the rules of another competition going on at the same time. This competition involved two athletes (Nick and Tom). The rules included
1. Buffalo rules apply (you have to drink with your bad hand, if you don't and someone calls buffalo you need to down your drink)
2. You must have a beer at all times.
3. Headbands must be worn at all times.
4. No shoes in the house. (house was made next to the wave)
1. Spin/round house = yell boooo drink 2 fingers
2. Anyone wearing a Go Pro = funnel
3. Panam = jump 180, moon the competitor and drink 3 fingers
4. Airscrew = yell “screw you” and drink 3 fingers
5. Combo = yell fries and a drink then drink 2 fingers
6. Any clean move = imitate cleaning yourself and drink 2 fingers
7. Helix = funnel
8. Swim = funnel
9. All competitors must wear a BA and helmet.
Nick and Tom competing hard during the freestyle
With this in mind I got geared up and headed to the wave. Amazingly when I got to the wave there was a huge number of people there to watch the event. 200 plus people from all over the world turned up. Of course before the event it is important to have some practice runs in and with the drinking competition in full swing we decided to see how committed the lads were to the cause. Anton and I were the only two on the water and our main focus was to see how much we could get the lads to drink. The best move was of course the helix to swim!!
The competition itself was scored in a way were the competitors had the freedom to try big moves, an expression session. It was 8 competitors in each heat and 30 minutes to do as many big air moves as possible. This had to be the best set of rules I have ever seen and for me as a competitor it was a lot of fun and it gave me huge freedom to try bigger and better moves. By the end the winner was obvious with Sam Ward putting on a show for everyone to enjoy with some crazy combos and seriously big air moves. I picked myself up a second place, which I was very happy with. Of course that night we once again partied hard and with Sam not able to eat gluten he donated his crate of beer to me, which was a nice beginning to the party that night.
Sunday morning was a very interesting morning not only did I have a terrible headache for reasons unknown but the day started with protest. Without mentioning names, for some reason we turned up at Itanda and people were trying to charge each competitor $15 and $15 for their kayak this also was for the spectators charging them $15. After some mud wrestling and a 2 hour wait we finally got in with the help of the police. The Itanda race was the idea Hendry Coetzee and is done in his memory, it involves competitors racing down Itanda in a timed race with the top 5 then going through to an expression session. Being a pretty big rapid, the nerves were going in the eddy at the top, “it's the loneliest place on the river” (Jamie Simpson).
54321 GO! We sprinted at the top and by the time I got to the lip of the ramp my arms were already burning, Sadat was ahead of me coming to the lip of the ramp and I knew I needed to do something special to get ahead of him. I decided to take a really tight line at the lip of the pencil sharpener to try and make up time however with the unpredictability of the boils on that lip along with my lack of energy I had a bit of a moment causing me to spin half way down the rapid. I still managed to get into the eddy at the end through the bad place however my time was not fast enough to qualify. The expression session at the end was an amazing final seeing different entry lines at the top of Itanda along with some surfing in the pencil sharpener and some classic bad place finishing.
The event was overall a huge success and so much fun as a competitor. I have no doubt next year will be even bigger and better.
Big Air Ramp:
1. Colin Wong (IRL)
2. Sam Ward (GBR)
3. Ben (UG)
1. Jackson Two and Musa Mutamba (UG)
2. Yusuf Basalirwa and Hassan Kanoli (UG)
3. Sadat Kawawa and David Luhiho (UG)
Nile Special Freestyle:
1. Sam Ward (GBR)
2. Colin Wong (IRE)
3. David Moore (UG)
1. Emily Wall (GBR)
2. Lowri Davies (GBR)
3. Jessie Stone (USA)
Hendri Coetzee Memorial Itanda Falls Race:
1. Sam Ward (GBR)
2. Yusuf Basalirwa (UG)
3. Jackson Two (UG)
Overall Women’s Champ:
1. Amina Nailrya (UG)
Overall Men’s Champ:
1. Sam Ward (GBR)
2. Colin Wong (IRL)
3. Anton Immler (SWE)