Traveling to Chile this winter to compete in the 2012 Whitewater Grand Prix was the competitive experience of a lifetime. I had been invited to race amongst 25 of the world’s best extreme whitewater kayakers in one of the highest profile whitewater competition of the year.
I left Bellingham on Thanksgiving Day to start the two day journey to Pucon, Chile. Traveling between planes, buses and taxis for 48 hours to get to Pucon was strenuous enough, but to be lugging around a nine foot kayak all the while made it much more challenging. Eventually, I made it to Pucon and got to meet the rest of the competitors.
Some of them were my friends, others were olympic athletes and many had been my idols for years. The comradery that everyone developed in just a matter of days was incredible. We had all become close friends even before the first event started. Though satisfying, we came all the way to South America to do much more than just make friends; we were here to compete.
The first event was a time-trial race down the Rio Gol Gol, a powerful river with an abundance of waterfalls and dynamic class V rapids. In less than five minutes we would have to paddle five waterfalls as tall as 30 feet. We would each have two attempts at the course and our fastest time would be judged. I was the third racer to leave the starting line, and I came out charging at full speed. Most of my lines were good on the top section, but once I got to the third waterfall of the race I fell off line and got thrown into a violent hydraulic. I was upside down for 15 seconds waiting for the river to spit me out, but it was to no avail. Exhausted, I decided to attempt a wet exit and swim out of my kayak. I was able to safely make it to the surface, but I wouldn’t be finishing my first race.
Nothing could have set me back much more than that violent swim, but I was able to redirect my energy towards my second attempt. The pressure was on, and I knew that I would have to make this one count. Out of the starting line I paced myself better than I had in my first run, and I was able to make it through all of the waterfalls confidently and consistently. Safe at the finish line I was as satisfied as could be. I had made it down the course without swimming, and I felt pretty good with my race. That evening the top ten finishers were announced, and miraculously I ended up taking eighth place. I was blown away by this and right then set a personal goal to finish overall in the top 10.
The Gol Gol race was the start to a two week competition that would encompass five extreme races on rivers all over the country. In the second competition on the Rio Puesco I took third and in the third competition on the Rio Nevados I took sixth. I was maintaining a good performances in all of the races, and I was ready for the final two.
For the last two events of the Grand Prix we would be traveling twenty hours south on the Pan American highway to find ourselves on the Rio Futaleafu in Patagonia. This river pumps thousands of cubic feet of water through its tight walls every second and made for the perfect finale to the competition. Unlike the previous three stages that had been in time trial format, we would be racing against each other side by side for the final events.
The first event was a head-to-head where four people raced down a turbulent class V rapid. The top two finishers from each primary heat would move onto the semi-finals, and the top two from each semi-final heat would move onto the final round. I was able to make it all the way to the final round and ended up finishing sixth. This race was unlike any of the previous stages and gave us a taste of what was to come in the final event.
The final stage was a mass start down a 27 mile class V section of the RioFutaleafu. That meant that the 22 remaining competitors who hadn’t fallen victim to injury would all line up together side by side, wait to hear the starting gun, then paddle as hard as they could against one another for twenty minutes all the way to the finish. As soon as the race started, boats were flying in every direction. It was pure chaos, and I felt like I was fighting for my life. I had never felt as physically drained as I did throughout the bottom half of that race. I flipped over numerous times, collided with dozens of other paddlers, but somehow I was able to make it to the finish in eighth place.
At the end of the Grand Prix, during the final awards ceremony it was announced that I had taken fifth place overall. I was blown away by how well I had fared amongst such incredible paddlers. The Whitewater Grand Prix in Chile will be a competition, an adventure and an experience to remember for the rest of my life. I was honored to have been a part of the event, and I can’t wait for the next one.
For more information on the Whitewater Grand Prix visit www.whitewatergrandprix.com.