January 28, 2019

GB Open Men’s IRF World Rafting Championship Argentina

Everything got very real on the 30th October 2018 when Team Peak UK, current British Champions, had the privilege of representing Great Britain at the IRF World Rafting Championships.

We started our two day journey to Argentina to compete in the 2018 International Rafting Federation World Championships. After three flights, two taxis and a bumpy seven hour bus journey, we arrived in a place called Villa Pehuenia, a village situated in the Neuquén Province in southwestern Argentina. Tired and a little disorientated we stared to discuss which direction our accommodation was and as if by magic from the darkness in the smallest of cars our captain appeared. After squeezing our baggage and selves in to the vehicle and bouncing down a few dirt roads we arrived at our accommodation for the week and we began to relax allowing us to fully focus on what we had been training for during the past year.

After a much needed sleep and dreams of what lay ahead we awoke to a very picturesque view, our apartment overlooked Lake Aluminé a stunning piece of water that fed the river we would be competing on and views of snow caped mountains and volcanoes of the Andes, what an amazing and inspiring view to wake up to every morning.

We had a few days before the event officially started to allow us to acclimatise and paddle the Rio Aluminé to check out the white water we had to contend with during the competition and what an incredible section of continuous grade 3/4 water it was.

The competition began with the very exciting opening ceremony where local Argentinians performing traditional dances and welcomed all the competing nations.

As always the first race was the Sprint, which was a fast flowing tricky section of the river that curved around to the left with multiple line choices. Two choices stood out either tight down the left and risk coming in to contact with rocks or push hard to the right and risk taking a big hit from a raft size curling wave both lines where as demanding as the other and difficult to get right, threading the raft between boulders, big wave trains and poor-overs. We decided to go for the left line and delivered a strong run with only split seconds separating us from the top teams putting us in a good position for the Head-to-Head the following day.

Day three of competition was the new format of Head-to-Head racing. Previously two teams would sprint against each other from start to finish trying to avoid contact and beat the other team, the new format now means both teams have to go around buoys one on one side of the river and then one on the other side of the river with the choice of two options on each side, very exciting to watch and very full-on to be part of. Our first run could not have gone any better beating the Netherlands and finishing with one of the fastest time down the course putting us through to the quarterfinals. We then faced the Czech Republic team, current European Champions, after a great race we were just beaten to the line placing us in 6th. The Czech Republic went on to win the event, a frustrating day of racing for us, but despite this we were still in a good position in the overall standings.

Day four was a rest day from competing but with the chance of some water time that we used wisely to prepare for the next two days of competition.

Day five took us to a different river named the Rio Ruca Churoy, another fantastic section of white water the perfect location to challenge the best teams from around the World at raft slalom. The course designer did not disappoint, setting a very technical 14 gate run which pushed teams slalom skills to the limit and beyond (!) with several teams flipping. We delivered a great first run, pinning the moves but unfortunately picked up a couple of touches, we all knew what we need to deliver on the second run. We finished the second run with an even quicker time, but once again picked up several touches placing us in 6th once (again!!) and leaving it all to play for in the final event.

The final Day was the downriver 14km of gruelling continuous grade 3/4 white water. After a strong start the first 4km was brutal we fought non-stop as teams jostled for position. As the race unfolded there was a break away by the Brazilian and Argentinian teams closely followed by Chile, Japan, Czech Republic and us. There was continuous battling against not only the relentless river but also against other teams for position. We narrowly missed out to a very strong Japanese team to finish in 5th place.

Just like that after a year of commitment, sacrifice and hard work it was all over and another incredible World Championship journey had ended seeing us rank 6th overall in the world, happy with our overall position as the competition was the strongest it has ever been, the white water was exhilarating and the weather unsettled but thanks to Peak UK and their continued support we were able to remain comfortable and focused on and off the water.

Words & Images – Alex Spibey