In August this year I had the privilege of fulfilling a long time goal of my which was to compete in the Sella Descent, a down river race held in the town of Ribadesella, on Spain’s North coast.
We (my family) arrived 4 days before the event to relax, meet my Spanish K2 partner Javier Rodriguez Dorado and do some training.
The race is like nothing I have ever done before, if you ever get the chance to do this race, make sure you go.
The town of Ribadesella has an influx of 200,000 extra inhabitants during the week the race is held, camping on any spare blade of grass available and once that is covered it is onto the concrete next. Sides of roads, front yards, medium strips, farm paddocks, you name it people where sleeping and trying to pitch a tent on it.
The morning of the race I got a lift up with 18 Spanish paddlers and me all crammed into a van that should really only hold about 10, little did I know that it was just the start of things to come. On race day more than 1,200 people lined up for the start.
I have never seen so many people converge on a race like they do for the Sella Descent, 200,000 people lining the banks of the river from start to finish all yelling and cheering.
The start is the best part of the race and my heart rate has never been so high for a race before. Everyone was shoulder to shoulder including the spectators.
It was a la monde start with a 15m run down to where our boats were lined up on the rocks of the river bank with no more than a 5cm between each, the competitors filled over 600m of river bank, ranked from position 1 through to 1,200. All with paddles locked in the starting gates behind us.
I don’t think words can describe how stressed I was listening to the crowd sing the anthem of Asturias. This is the race start. As the song nears its end the crowd gets louder and louder until it just erupts and they release all the paddles from the gates.
The first kilometre is chaos with so many people racing to get in front. Javier and I started in position 99 and were able to ride a 60cm wave down the river for the first 300m but at the same time it almost washed us out of the river.
People were crashing into each other with blades going across bodies and crews falling in.
The race spreads out quickly down the river as the top crews take off at 1000m race pace and everyone else tries to keep up.
The river was shallow and I completely trashed my new Braca paddle, hitting the rocky bottom too many times.
Javier and I had a great race and ended up finishing around 25th.
Can’t wait until next year, we may be seeded at the start.