Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Italy and the Teva Extreme Games

Paddling in the heart of the Italian mountains was characterised by steep drops with exquisite crystal clear water set deep into the valleys. Above us rugged mountains towered overhead of the tiny villages perched on the edge of the river. When I first got there I could hardly believe that there was enough water to paddle any of the rivers, but once in my boat the creeks transformed into a (often terrifying) hydroslides.

I had come to Italy to take part in the 6th Teva Extreme Games held in Val Sesia. I was a first time visitor to the area with few expectations of what I had got myself into and I felt this event really lived up to its name. The rivers were extreme and so were many of the athletes who came to paddle and party.

The competition is set in the beautiful mountain villages of Balmucia and Rassa. These villages are like a kind of modernised Nepal that despite being located in Europe still hadn’t quite made it into the twenty first century. This was confirmed that night when three cows with their cowbells wandered through the campsite followed by an old woman. From the moment I arrived in the valley, I knew it would be hard to leave.

After several days of driving to Italy, trying to coax our GPS system to avoid imaginary roads and the expensive French toll motorways I was absolutely trashed. Unfortunately the poor route choice also meant I had also lost my practice day. So day one of the competition on the challenging Egua river was also to be my warm up day for the paddling season. Luckily I had the good fortune to run in to a German friend, Anna, who with a healthy dose of positivity showed me the lines. Together with the cameradie of the other women competitiors I made it through the first and most challenging day. I had come last out of everyone, but that day, I had been just to have competed.

Day two saw us relocate to the beautiful Rassa and the Sorba river. Driving into the valley I was impressed by the size of the drops but after that previous day this river seemed like a piece of cake. After the second practise run I was even starting to enjoy the paddling. Then they put up the route for the extreme slalom. Not only was the route demanding and the touch-the-rock type of slalom meant we’d be paddling most of the drops with only one hand on the paddle! However once only the water it all came together and I really enjoyed the slalom and the sprint race that followed.

After the competition an Italian paddler Suzanne invited me to go paddling on a river with a “bit more water”, so I jumped at the chance. We headed to the Sesia, the main river down the valley. As we slid into the water Suzanne pointed out a little chapel with an inscription “Think about all of your dead”. Hmm, interesting way to start a river trip... Then it was 45 minutes of active fun paddling as I tried to keep up with these guys on their local run. Once more, I couldn’t decided whether the paddling or the scenary was most spectacular on the run!

Like everything else that they do, the Italians do paddling with style. At the takeout we had wine and cheese and there was many loud and boisterous Italian greetings as my new friends met old friends. Never before have I seen a Porsche with kayaks on top, or a camper kitted out in leopard skin complete with a leopard skin bath robes and a smiling babe to greet her wet and soggy paddler!

Then there were only two more events left as part of the competition, but luckily we had saved the best to last. First of all there was the legendary Teva party complete with large amounts of red wine, paddler antics and some disco dancing. Then the next day, a little worse for the wear we turned up for the the boater cross.

Finally it was my chance to shine. When the banner lifted I took off into the lead down the first rapid. But my celebration was short lived, as my inexperience showed and I got caught up in the approach to the next drop. By the last drop I had regained one place and then lost it again. The race was short, but the most fun race I’ve ever done.

Thanks to Teva for sponsoring the red wine, Francesco for organising the event and all the other paddlers who made it fun. Congratulations Anna, for coming 3rd. For a full listing of results check out Playak.

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