It was seven years ago, when I was just 14, that I last competed at the “Kayak Castle Rapid Race”. The race itself runs down the River Ahr, a fast flowing, rapid-laden river that creeps down the high-sided Ahrntal valley in Südtirol’s Pustertal region. The valley skirts the Austrian border and drains water from the surrounded mountains which climb to almost 3500m, so there’s a lot of water travelling between the Ahr’s narrow banks, which creates some spectacular rapids. Perched on the rocks above the river, the “Campo di Tures” a medieval castle watches the spectacle.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be my last opportunity to compete at the event in its current location as the organisers had decided to make this the final edition. For the last ever event the group of local paddlers organising the event decide that it would be extra special, by night, with lights!
Myself and a good paddler friend of mine made the trip from Merano to Campo di Tures for the event. When we arrived the sun was burning, so we kitted-up and hit the river for some practice laps, but the water level was pretty low. We ended-up using our practice time to find a helmet for last year’s winner so we weren’t well prepared for the race.
The race itself is approximately 600m long. It starts with a terrifying 5m start ramp, cobbled together from old pallets, that really gets your heart pumping! After the launch it’s a sharp left and then into the flow of the rapids. My launch wasn’t perfect and my sharp left wasn’t so sharp. From the first stroke of my paddle I was playing catch-up which meant I missed the qualifying cut-off by three places. But these guys know how to throw a party, so all was not lost.
The next day my buddy Andi Brunner, who’d placed 2nd at the race, hit the legendary Reinbach Falls, a series of three interlinked waterfalls. The first drop is only 3m, it’s easy. Directly after the plunge-pool it’s time for the big 8m drop. The final drop is 5m with a tricky re-direct over a rock face. I scouted the falls and sat in my boat at the top… I was nervous. I dropped-in after Andi. It’s funny, you’re so concentrated on every move in the lead-up to the drop, that by the time you realize you’re going over the falls, you’re already at the bottom. On the big drop I took a hard hit and got kicked-back out of the water, it wasn’t the best landing, but the last drop was pretty smooth and I was stoked.
My next race is the Adidas Sickline World Champs in Austria’s Oeztal, the most important Kayaking event in the European calendar. I can't wait!