Monday, October 24, 2011

Ready for a NZ summer

2010 vids
I’ve been back in New Zealand 2 weeks now, and even though I've had great time in Europe, I’m super stoked to be back. I’ve just been looking at a few of the little vids from the 2010/11 summer and thought I’d share a couple. I’m definitely fired up for another New Zealand summer of boating, it’s gonna be awesome.

Blue River

In September 2010 I flew down to Christchurch for the school holidays for a ‘tour de south’ with Willz Martin. I had no idea what he had planned, but was happy that for once I didn’t have to plan anything, simply hop in and enjoy the ride. After a few days on the west coast we headed south all the way down to Haast Pass, where Willz had a little project in mind, named the Blue river. We were sure someone must have been in there before, but had no idea who, nor did we have any beta, so we had to treat it like a first descent. 
The Blue river is better known for its extremely blue pools at the confluence with the Makarora river, which is a bit of a tourist attraction. From here we shouldered our boats for a couple of hours and put in where the track comes down to river level above the gorge. I am sure there are more sections above here as there is plenty of gradient and plenty of water,  just requiring a much further walk in. Maybe we’ll go have a looksie this summer.
Anyway, some topo-map research uncovered there would be only one exit point to the gorge, where a small creek joins the blue on river-left half way down. With this in mind, we had to carefully pick our way downstream, rapid by rapid, always looking for possible ways to get back up if we met an unscoutable/unportageable/unrunnable rapid downstream. The run was a lot steeper and continuous than what we expected, and putting on late in the day saw us splitting our trip into two days, leaving our boats at the said exit point and walking back in the next day.
What we found was a classic. A stunningly beautiful gorge, continuous class 4/5 white-water with several bigger, stauncher rapids on offer if you’re feeling fired up. Highly recommended. Next time I’ll be hoping for a slightly higher water level so the big ones are more ‘good to go’. None of them were fired on this day.

Waipapa River

Another classic from the Kaimai range in the Bay of Plenty, is the Waipapa. It sits next valley over from the now famed Wainui river. While not as continuous as its bigger brother over the hill, its still a worth while day out if there’s more than 4 or 5 cumecs at the put-in. Plenty of big classic drops and a couple of slides to make for a super fun trip.
This particular day we had just above 3 at the put-in, a bit low really, but that didn’t stop our large crew getting amongst it and having some fun. Meeeeaan day.

The summer of 2010/11 was shit for rafting, but great for kayaking. Almost unheard of in summer, the Kaituna river was closed for rafting for almost a month – for being too high. There had been so much rain, which resulted in the control gates being held open for weeks.
It is such a fun run at this flow, and being the middle of summer the temperature is like bath water. It’s hard to beat open gates tuna runs.
I took the go pro for a couple of runs down, and here’s what we came up with… 
Paddling through the jungle in bath water.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sickline - Extreme Race World Champs 2011

Each year the white water kayaking extreme race world champs are held in the small town of Oetz, Austria. Known as the Adidas sickline race, almost 150 competitors from 26 different countries flocked to Oetz to test themselves amongst the worlds best.

This is truly a wicked event. Most paddlers arrive a week early to catch up with friends, hang out and practice their lines down the Wellerbrucke rapids where the race is held. This is the world championships, but the seriousness of the event does not affect the atmosphere amongst the paddlers. The vibe is friendly and chilled out.

Top half of the race course, the Wellerbrucke rapids on the Oetz river.

The Oetztallerache (Oetz river) is a glacial fed river which runs too high for most of the summer with the heat, but now in autumn the temps are much lower and therefore limit the melting of the glacier, allowing the wellerbrucke rapids to drop to a level which is paddle-able.
The water is cold, about 6 degrees Celsius, and the rapids only see the sun for a few hours of the day. Luckily for us the weather picture perfect every day, apparently it can be pretty cold down there if its not.

This year the event attracted the strongest field the sick-line race has ever seen, with so many incredible paddlers making the effort to get to Austria this year. It was also great to see such a diverse range of countries competing – not just Europe.

Over the week prior, many fast paddlers were emerging as favourites to take out the competition, with Egor Voskoboynikov of Russia and Isaac Levinson of the USA were both looking smooth and fast all week despite the higher than usual river flows. Because of a recent snow fall and then warm temperatures, the wellerbrucke rapids were quite juicy, and were proving challenging for most paddlers. Lets just say it was entertaining times before I was able to paddle again, whenever I was up at the race course watching paddlers lines. I’d say most paddlers at some stage had some time in a hole, or up side down, or under a rock during the week.

Safety setup for race day on the undercut rock many paddlers explored in the practice week.

Day one of the event (Friday) was the qualification to make it through the finals on the Saturday. Qualification course was about an 80sec sprint the last two drops of the finals race course, and down a couple hundred metres of grade 3.
The first run cut the field down from 142 to 90, and the second run would then be combined with run no.1 and the field cut to 48 for the finals.

I felt pretty good in my first run, not fast but pretty smooth and no mistakes. Turns out it was little off the pace (62nd) and I needed to take a few seconds off that in my next run in order to qualify. My next run felt slower, it wasn’t smooth at all but I paddled way harder, and somehow I managed to be 2 secs faster than my first run. In the end it wasn’t enough and I had just missed the top 48 for the final, ending up in 56th place.  I was a little disappointed not make it through to the top 48, but couldn’t beat myself up too much considering my circumstances the previous 3 weeks leading up to the event. But actually all I needed was 2 of my second run, and then I would have been through.

The other three kiwis in the event qualified strongly, setting up an exciting day for NZ in the finals on Saturday.
Different from all other extreme races around the world, the finals of the sickline race start with the quarter finals in the format of a tennis draw – 1st races 48th, 2nd races 47th, 3rd races 46th and so on. Paddlers are matched head to head against their opponent on time, and the faster time progresses into the semi finals.
Mike Dawson, Sam Sutton and brother Jamie Sutton from New Zealand all dominated their opening encounters making into the semifinals.

24 paddlers then go forth into the semi finals along with 2 lucky losers (the fastest losers), again into a tennis draw system.

Unfortunately for New Zealand Sam and Jamie were drawn against each other in the semis, but it was a one sided battle with Sam posting a course record 56 seconds to oust Jamie from competition.
Sam on his way to posting the 56 second course record.

From the semis the top 15 go through to the super final where it’s a single run shoot-out, starting in reverse order.
It definitely makes it more exciting for the spectators having paddlers pitted against each other, but its not really appropriate for a world champs, as many fast paddlers that are fast enough to make finals are eliminated in earlier rounds.

The super final was amazing to watch with super-tight competition, and only a second separating 2nd to 8th position. We had 2 kiwis in the final and the suspense and excitement was amounting with every paddlers’ run down the course.
The long nervous wait for your run in the super final.

Mike Dawson put down a solid run and posted a 58.00 seconds time just edging into 1st place with only a few paddlers to come.
Sam Sutton was the last to have his final run and he absolutely destroyed the course, slashing a second off his previous course record and semifinal time, with a pretty-much perfect 55 second run, 2.15 seconds ahead of the next paddler.
Mike Dawson skipping through the core section to move temporarily into 1st place ahead of Paul Bockelmann of Germany.

Sam powering to the finish to claim his second world title back to back.

It was an awesome day for New Zealand and also Bliss-stick kayaks, 1st and 2nd at the world champs. NZ’s Louise Jull also placed a creditable fourth in the women’s category.

It was such a sick week, so many good people and fun times and an awesome event, and then Oktoberfest to top it all off.  I’ll definitely be back for redemption in the race next year!

Below is the vid of the super final. Check it out. The last 20min has the kiwi's in action.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Training for sickline

The last couple of weeks to be honest has been a bit of a rollercoaster,  starting with the highs of feeling fit and strong and getting in some good preparation for the sickline worlds, down to the lows of getting an infection in the bursa of my right elbow, having it swell to the size of africa, put in a cast, and told the sickline worlds are a no go and so is physical exertion of any kind for the next few 2 or 3 weeks. Things were looking pretty bleak from my perspective, the whole reason I had been staying here in Europe had become non-existent. Healing progress was slow to say the least, even with the ultra powerful antibiotics, ibprofen and voltaren I was abusing. I went down to Austria anyway to catch up with friends and spend a bit of time outdoors, which was great for the soul. The last couple of days I've also seen a huge improvement in my elbow.
It is now 2 days out from the world champs and I'm writing this from up in Kaufbeuren, Germany, my base for much of the summer, I came back from Austria to the doctor here this morning and walked out with great news. The infection in my arm is almost gone, and even though he thinks paddling this weekend is too soon, he also thinks I might be ok if I give it a go. Just gotta look after it, keep poppin the pills and slapping on the voltaren (otherwise it can come back even worse).
Couldn't keep the smile off my face for much of today, and I head back down to Austria tomorrow evening. I'll get one day on the Wellerbrucke rapids (the race course) before competition, not much I know, but one is better than none. The arm and hand are a little weak but should be ok. Game on!

Here's a few pics from the few days we spent down in Oetz. Couldn't join in the activities so I got out my camera, it was still fun!

The beautiful town of Oetz, home of the Sickline World Champs.

Small towns and villages scattered between the Alps.

Ron and Jamie making the most of the perfect settled weather, about to para-glide from the ski field.

Setin' up.

Ron on his way down to the town you can see bottom left.

Excited much? Jamie's turn.

A little wind is key for the speed wing, if you want to make it over the gondola and into the valley.

Wellerbrucke rapids on the Oetz. The race course doesn't see the light for much of the day.

Sam, Dane and Tomass havin some fun on the upper Wellerbrucke rapids.

Traffic Jam.

Mike D setting up to skim out of the last drop on the race course.

Nick Troutman with Jamie Sutton in tow, practicing their lines.

Sam Sutton testing out the new Bliss-stick "Tuna" on the Wellerbrucke.

The "Tuna" passed its test with flying colours. This boat is fast! Sam scooting towards the finish.

Maxi Siech nailing his boof on the second to last drop of the race course.

The Mystic still does it. Mike D skipping over the top of some holes through the core section.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Devils Extreme Race - European Champs, Czech Republic.

The devils extreme race is held on the Lipno River, in the small village of Loučovice, Czech Republic, and is the European Championships of Extreme Kayaking.

This river only flows 3 days a year, so the Lipno is a very busy place the weekend of the Devils race. I've never seen so many kayakers, rafters and Canoes in my life. And as it happened, the Czech national slalom champs were being held just up river at the slalom course this same weekend so we were able to catch up with some more kiwi friends who were competing there.

This event is consists of a Downriver extreme race and a boater-cross event the following day.
We had hoped to get over a day early to check out the river we would be racing on but at last minute we heard Sam was going to be able to make it so we waited for him to fly in before we made our way to Czech. 
Day 1 was the Downriver race which you had to qualify for via an extreme slalom course. If you made the semis it was a 2km long race and then if you made the finals it was a grueling 4km long race course.
The morning of the race Sam, Jamie and I went for a quick paddle down the river to check out the rapids. To be honest it just seemed like one big long rapid, and although it wasn't super hard, there were way to many lines to remember after just one time down. I guess we just had to hope for the best. It was a pretty cool river, similar in character to the Wairoa River in New Zealand but with less vertical drops.

Up next for my qualification run.

In the extreme slalom quals we all managed make it into the top 30 and into the semis which was the main thing. Sam qualified in 2nd, Mike 3rd, Jamie 5th and myself 15th.
Into the semis we were faced with the challenge of not knowing the fast race lines but we did pretty we'll, Sam and I made the same time in 11th place, Jamie made it into 8th and Mike did amazing coming in 1st place ahead of defending champion Victor Legat of Czech Republic (Mike was juggling his slalom races on the same day aswell). Only the top 10 went through to the final so Sam and I just missed out and it was up to Jamie and Mike to bring it home for the Kiwi's.
In the final it was Mike who dominated the field holding his 1st place and Jamie managed to climb one spot into 7th place. 

In the women's division NZ's Louise Jull ducked away from her slalom race just up the road and sneaked in a couple of extreme race runs, making the podium in 2nd place.

Day 2 is the boater cross event consisting of 4 person heats down a short course of rapids, having to touch strategically placed buoys on the way down. The start is pretty exciting up on a massive ramp, and all 4 competitors are catapulted into the river at the same time. I was quite surprised not to get landed on or land on anyone else!

I managed to win my heats and quarter finals only to be kicked out in the semi's. Jamie Sutton made it all the way into the final and took top honours in an action packed final race. Jamie is racing super strong at the moment. Watch out for him at the Sickline Worlds.

Round 1 heat we're off! Quick reaction time is key. Super fun start to the race.

And then put on the gas as you land.

Having to go round this buoy before heading down the rapids made the starts really even.

Lucky to be clear of the pack in the quarterfinals.

Jamie Sutton executing a wicked passing move 30m before the finish in the final.

Womens downriver Champions (from left): 1st Anne Hubner (GER), 3rd Katerina Migdauova (CZE), 2nd Louise Jull (NZL)

Down river race champion Mike Dawson, 2nd Victor Legat (CZE).

Mens Boatercross: 1st Jamie Sutton, 2nd Thomas Waldner (ITA), 3rd Tomo Andrassy (CZE)

Team Kiwi picking up 3rd in the teams race. Pretty good for not really knowing the long course.
Full results of the event can be found here -

Here's a good clip from the TV coverage of the event. I had no idea Sam, Mike and Jamie could speak such good Czech.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


In search of some actual summer weather Sam, Kat, Jamie, Soph and I borrowed some sea kayaks and headed south, 8 hours in the car on the autobahn, we arrived in Croatia with the idea that we could paddle around some it’s islands for a while.
Within 20min of entering Croatia we came across multiple diving boards towering out into the water.  These diving boards were present in almost every bay we drove past on our way down the coast. I like Croatia already!

20min into Croatia. Jamie on top. These diving boards are everywhere!

Quick ferry out to Rab.

Our plan was to circumnavigate (slowly) the island of Rab and a couple of the surrounding islands. Rab is located in the upper half of the Croatian coast, about 120kms south of Rijeka.
We caught the ferry out to Rab, picked up one more sea kayak from Jogi at sea kayak croatia (absolute legend), and set on our way.

Soph setting out on Rab harbour, Rab town central in the back ground.

Lunch day 1.

Rab itself is a very popular tourist location and even though we were there in high season, we were still able to find beaches and spots for ourselves. Every couple of days we'd go and find a village to stock up on food. The food is cheap and good.
The Mediterranean sea at this time of the year is stunningly warm and crystal clear. Every day the temperature is hot (35 degrees) and the sky is cloudless. The only weird thing is most of the time you need to wear shoes when you swim, as there are heaps and heaps of sea urchins everywhere on sea floor.

I will let the photos and their captions tell the rest of the story... 

The Mediterranean is so salty and bouyant you don't even need to try and float, it just happens. Jamie on his lilo.

A late morning swim on day 2. Still in awe of the warm clear water. What were we even doing in Norway???

The Sheep on Goli Otok (Otok is island) have life pretty tough, no green pastures, just rocks. I'd say they have pretty tough feet too as the rocks are razor sharp to walk on.

On our way to the top of Goli Otok to catch the sunset.

Family photo at the top of Goli, looks like we all have a tan, but its just the golden light of the setting sun.

I paddled round a corner and happened to see this Eagle Owl perched about 3m away from me. With a bit of fumbling with my peli-case I was too slow for a close up. They're pretty big, wing span up to 2m. Glad it didn't try to eat me. I heard if they're hungry they'll even go for a small deer.

Jamie, Kat and Sam enjoying their freshly caught and cooked muscles for lunch.
Master chef Sam Sutton.

Rise and shine, another hot day in the sun.

Doing the breakfast dishes never had such a good view.

From Goli island we came back to civilisation for supplies and this is what we found. Glad we weren't on holiday here.

Don't you just wanna hop in that water?

Birds eye view of day 6 camp. Yep that's a naked person. And yes his name is Jamie.

Stunning weather every day. Beautiful Scenery. Soph loving it.

We were loving the sun for the first few days, but by the end of the week we were feeling the effects of too much sun. As soon as we got to a beach our first move would setting up shelter from the sun.

The standard Sommer paddle bivi setup so we can escape the sun. We got pretty good at it by about day 5 when we couldn't handle the sun anymore.

Very funky rocks.

After 7 days around Rab we headed back to the mainland and continued the simple life of sun, swimming and doing heaps of choice as jumps, playing cards, drinking Radler, eating mozarella and tomato in the small village on Stinica, on the mainland coast directly adjacent to Rab.

Our play ground on the mainland for a couple days at the end of the trip.

I had my go pro with me for the trip, but I only ever remembered to break it out when we were diving and jumping. The important stuff I guess. Here's a quick vid of our super warm time jumping into the Mediterranean...

Swimming and choice as bombs in croatia but no ice creams from brendan bayly on Vimeo.