Tuesday, June 28, 2011

To the Beach - Post race holiday

From the Ayasse river we drove south until we found the coast (the west coast of Italy). We stayed in the bustling town of Genova, so we could pick Soph up by train the next morning. From here the plan was less specific, we ended up just driving down the coast until we found somewhere we wanted to stay but we didn't have to drive far.
The little town of Moneglia was just what we were looking for. The Mediterranean sea is so warm and crystal clear we spent a 2 days lying in the sun, swimming, stand-up paddling, eating gelato, eating pizza and drinking cocktails. Life is so good sometimes.


Stand up paddling towards Africa.

Sam and Katharina enjoying beer in the sun on Sam's Birthday.

Life is hard sometimes.

Ayasse River - Northern Italy

After the Outdoor games, we were ready for a break, the last thing we felt like doing was kayaking. We'd been dreaming of warm weather and sun since we got here, but all we'd had was rain and more rain.
So it was decided, we were off to the beach! but not before we got conned into paddling once more. Swiss kayaker Severin Haeberling was keen to head into the Ayasse river, about half an hour's drive from Ivrea, apparently a super sick run, the water levels were perfect, we were sold.
We had a multi-national team of 5, 1 Swiss, 2 Kiwi's and 2 Russians.
The first rapid of the day was a great start to a beautiful and classic run chock full of goodies. Slides, water falls and boulder gardens. I'll let the photos and video do the talking.

Village at the put-in for the Ayasse.

Typical stone house architecture up in the alps.
Mean Castle on a random peak in the valley.

Teva Outdoor Extreme Games, Italy

After flying from Denver to Munich, Sam, Kat and I drove 8 hours south to the Valchiusella, in northern Italy, passing through Austria and Switzerland on the way. With no map we had to rely solely on Sam Sam, our human GPS, who was running on the 2010 experience map version. I have to say he did remarkably well, the road system in Europe is not straight forward, and unlike the USA, roads go all over the place and we didn't get lost. We arrived around midnight, quickly set up out 2 man tent, and the 3 of us piled in - COZY. At least we weren't gonna be cold. We woke in the morning to a couple of not so polite toots from a passing car, and realised the free camping situation here is not the same as home.

The Valchiusella is home to the creeking section of the Kayak Freeride World Champs, held at the TEVA Outdoor Extreme Games in Ivrea, Italy.
The Competition consists of individual and team competitions, with 5 individual events and 3 team events. A creek race time trial, King of the falls race, short sprint race, slalom and boater cross.
Its quite a full-on schedule with 8 races in four days.

I managed 14th in the creek race, I had made a couple of mistakes but generally I had a smooth run, just lacking fitness. I had qualified for the 'king of the falls' race so I was happy. Mike Dawson of NZ dominated the field, with Honza Lasko of Czech and Sam Sutton not too far behind.

The King of the Falls race does not count towards overall points but there is money on offer. Its held on a short but very steep section of rapids above the creek race section, and only the top 20 in the creek race qualify. The rapids are pretty full-on, and quite a few of the competitors who qualify for this race choose not to participate, to make sure they don't injure themselves for the rest of the races. I managed 10th which was sweet, I didn't paddle too hard, I just really wanted to stick the lines as I'd only been down once the day before. Ron Fisher of Switzerland was the quickest down the course with Maxime Mitaut of France in 2nd and Sam Sutton NZ in 3rd.

Sam Sutton jumping into the gutter on his way to 3rd in king of the falls.

Shuttle service. Just like home.

The next day was the Teams creek race, with Myself teaming up with Mike Dawson and Sam Sutton to form the sole NZ team. To be honest it was a bit daunting being in the team with these 2. I was just hoping I could hang on to them. We actually had a super quick run, but a mistake 20m from the finish cost us a few seconds and we had to settle for 2nd, finishing 1 second behind the Czech team.

From here the Event moved down out of the Alps to the white water course in Ivrea, for the sprint, slalom and boater-cross events.

The Teams sprint was held between 10:30pm and 1am under lights, which made a pretty cool atmosphere to race in, with a big audience of Ivrea'n locals turning out to watch. We ended up in 3rd and only hundredths of seconds behind the French and German teams, despite posting the fastest single run time of the night. We made a mistake at the start of our first run not hearing the starter which cost us a win in this event. All good though, we still had the slalom to come back.

Teams sprint. Photo Martina Wegman

Finishing strong, trying to hang on.

The slalom course was challenging, but the major obstacle in our way was the German team. This team is made up fully from world cup slalom paddlers, Jakobus Anonym, Lukas Kalkbrenner and Paul Bockelmann. Unfortunately we were unable to match these guys down the course, and we finished in 3rd place.

Overall we finished in 2nd place, with the Germans winning and Czech in 3rd. I ended up 20th in the individual competition.  I have learned so much from my first couple of events, and will be so much stronger in competition next year, I'm looking forward to it already.

Individual 1st Mike Dawson, Sam Sutton 2nd and Michele Ramazza 3rd.

King of the Falls winner Ron Fisher

Here's a quick edit of some of the highlights from the competition, filmed by Martina Wegman.

TEVA EXTREME OUTDOOR GAMES 2011 from Martina Wegman on Vimeo.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Teva Mountain Games in Vail, CO.

The 1st major event on our hit list was the Teva Mountain games in Vail, Colorado, a week-long event with all sorts of adventure and extreme events. I flew into Denver to meet Sam and Katharina and headed straight towards the Rocky Mountains, but not before a quick reunion with Carls Jr. Welcome back to America!
We had a couple of days up our sleeve to train and try to get used to the significantly decreased amount of oxygen available to us. Vail itself is pretty high, but the creek we were to race on is up around 9000ft so 3000m.
My first impressions of Homestake creek were that of a steep, scary, boat breaking mank-fest, but after a couple of runs down and getting used to the lines I actually came to really like the course. I liked how technical it was, you had to be perfect to be smooth. Just paddling normally (not racing), your lungs are burning by half way down the course (its only 2min long) and you start to lose the feeling in your hands due to the icy cold water. This was a tad worrying for my race in a few days, because you really don’t want to muck up your line down this run, especially if you want to keep your face.

Boofing the cleanest drop halfway down the run. Lungs burning, fingers numb.

Talking lines and catching our breath before the last section.

After a quick couple runs down the race section, we made our way up to a little town called Steamboat, for the paddle-lite pro, a small competition consisting of a creek race and a freestyle competition.
Sam and I managed to take out the creek race 1st and 2nd, and we placed 8th and 9th in the freestyle which was enough to place top 5 overall, and walk away with some money. The Steamboat race is a fun little competition, its pretty chilled out but still attracts a quality field, and it was great preparation in the high altitude for the Teva games a few days later.

Where's the step ladder for this thing?

Homestake steep creek championships

The first event in the Teva Mountain games is the steep creek championship, which is our main event, the main reason we come to Vail. The race attracts many of the top paddlers in the world, the competition is fierce, and the prize money is good. $2000US for the winner.  
The fastest combined total of two runs down the course would determine the winner. Each competitor gets one run down the course before they cut the field in half, so its pretty cut throat, but I just managed to make it through to the finals. My first run was actually quite good, but with one really stupid mistake halfway down the course costing me lot of time. My 2nd run was not so good, although 5 seconds faster than my first run, I made quite a few little mistakes in several places down the run.
I finished up 17th, which at first I was pretty disappointed with, but I couldn’t really expect much more for not having paddled for the last 2 months. On the good side, my ribs and back were feeling great.

Honza Lasko (Czech) and Mike Dawson tied for 1st place (how does that happen?), after 2 runs down their combined totals were the same, down to the hundredths of a second, with Jakob Nemec coming in 3rd. Adriene Levkinect dominated the womens class, posting times that would have put her high on the mens table, and fellow kiwis Nikki Kelly and Louise Urwin coming in 2nd and 5th.

Here's a couple vids with some of the highlights...

8 Ball Race

Later on in the week I also competed in what they call the 8 Ball race. This race is a 200m sprint down grade 2 whitewater, with '8-ballers' (kayakers, tandem kayakers, rafts and stand-up paddlers) positioned all down the course to attack/block/slow down the racers. The only rule is you can’t take your hand off your paddle. This race is super fun and great for the spectators, as it is on a section of river in downtown Vail, and there’s heaps of carnage. 
You can’t really go in with a plan other than to go fast, as most of your plans will be turned upside down. You need to be fast, take all your chances, and most importantly get lucky.

Somehow I managed these in all my heats, and made it into the finals. In the final I was just pipped at the finish line by Mike Dawson, with Dave Fusilli close behind in 3rd. I was stoked to come away with some more money, in the know that the airline would probably charge me an arm to get my boat on the plane to Europe. After the race it was a quick pack up and drive back to Denver for a flight to Germany.

Sam and I taking 1st and 2nd in our first heat.

The finish line under the bridge.

Neither of these first two ladies make it through to the next round. That's the 8 Ball race.

 A couple pics from the freestyle event...

Dane Jackson leading the way with amplitude on all his moves.
Dustin Urban ripping it up in front of hundreds, on his way to winning the Mens event.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mangawhio Stream

 After a month and a half of physio, osteo, and a strengthening program, my spine and ribs were back in line and ready to go. The past week had been awesome, I’d been for a few flat water sessions, and even got a couple of laps on the Tuna after work Tuesday and Wednesday. Damn it was good to be back in a boat.
So with another strong frontal system approaching from the west, creeking was again on the menu for the Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions. It was time put my back to the final test.
The rain wasn’t going to do anything to the rivers until after midday, so I headed round to Mr Roil’s house for bacon and eggs, while we frothed with excitement and anticipation as the rainfall graphs went up and up and up.
The options we had were a high tuakopai or a high mangawhio – both very good options. Sanga wasn’t fired up for the Mangawhio due to past low water experiences, so we headed to the Tuakopai and met up with Ben, only to find the river hadn’t risen high enough yet. We had to make a decision of whether to wait a couple of hours for the tuakopai to rise or head to an already swollen mangawhio, as the rain had started there much earlier.
An hour later we were at the put-in for the Mangawhio, very excited and amping to get on the river. We made sure we had a quick peek from the road bridge to check lines for the crux section and made sure we could stop before the two biggies at the end.
If you’re thinking about doing this run don’t forget to say hi to Beverly (farm owner) before you drive down to the put in and let her know you’re here for some waterfall riding.

A high water Mangawhio is FUN. Imagine a narrow, fast, chocolate rollercoaster twisting and turning with constant boogie water and slides, with a few sweet waterfalls dotted in there too. There’s not a lot of stopping when it’s this high.
When you pull out of the first eddy you’ve got 30m before you drop off your first waterfall. Such a good way to start!
With very little stopping we made it down to the steep section in about 45min, and pulled into the eddy above the last 3 drops, all with perma grins from a very busy section of rapids.
The last 3 rapids come as a package deal, buy one, get the rest free, whether you want them or not. They also come in three different heights, 10ft, 30ft and 40ft.
Much to our dismay we found the lip of the 30ftr totally blocked by a massive tree. A bit of a sour taste to taint the sweet sweet run we’d been having. I’ll definitely be back in there this coming summer to deal to it.
The portage of the first two drops with a boat is annoying but possible, and so we made our way round to a rather intimidating seal launch into the gorge above the 40 footer. The sweetest 40ftr in the world then proceeds to erase any memory of the awkward portage we just completed, and with perma grins reinstated, we joyfully paddled the 10min back up the Waikato River to the car and warm and dry clothes.

Here's a very short, dark glimpse of our day, through the eye of the go pro.

More states and europe updates coming shortly...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The start of a blog

I'm gonna rewind a little bit to start this blog, a couple of days before I left for warmer climates, my first time back on the water since dislocating ribs a couple of months ago.