Inside UNLEASHED x Uganda – Day 1 Cuban Freestyle
Stage 1: Cuban Freestyle presented by Jackson Kayak
A glorious way to live. 29 athletes from 12 diverse countries have converged upon the longest river in the world to progress the sport of whitewater kayaking. Earlier today, the Cuban Wave that lies smack dab in the middle of the infamous Itanda Falls played host to stage 1 of UNLEASHEDxUganda.
The fog lifted off the water as the orange glow of the sunrise glittered through the trees. Athletes began to stir and rustle, eventually crowding the Nile River Explorers café for a daily dose of caffeine in the finest form of coffee. The mood was light as the morning continued and 29 kayaks began to find their way onto the raft trailer. However, a different feeling filled the hearts of organizers the previous night. After completing the opening meeting, information came forth that the upstream Owens Falls Dam on the White Nile was being shut down for emergency repair and potentially no water was going to be moving downstream for competition day. This possibly devastating turn of events sank the stomachs of organizers in a feeling perfectly summed up by comments of Bren Orton (UK), “I’ve just had a minor heart attack that has taken a year off my life.” This news shook the crew, but after a terse few minutes and further investigation, organizers discovered that out of necessity for downstream hydroelectric stations to create power, it was required for the top dam to release and stage 1 would continue as planned.
Athletes cheered and shouted as the truck arrived at Itanda Falls following an hour of dipping and dodging throughout the speed bumps that define the red dirt roads of the surrounding villages. The athlete meeting for stage 1 took place over looking the Cuban and gave organizers the opportunity of an on site safety meeting to stress the importance of team orientated safety throughout the day. The format for stage 1 was also covered in this meeting; a jam session styled freestyle competition that gave athletes 3 ½ hours to throw the biggest, most stylish and most creative tricks they could think of. This format allows athletes multiple chances to progress the limits of freestyle without the added pressure of having multiple tricks in one particular ride and takes away the risk of flushing on your hardest tricks. The best 3 tricks an athlete completed over the 3 ½ hours dictated the athletes result, and combo tricks were valued higher than single tricks as the increase in complexity in turn increased the value.
Ensuing the athlete meeting, kayaks were unloaded from the trailer and dusty red gear was pulled from underneath the seats. The stylish combination tricks and crazy amounts of air were made more impressive when just catching the wave was a mission. A turbulent eddy line blocked access to the wave and whirlpools slammed and sucked down athletes at every turn. The unstable eddy line, in combination with the Cuban being the shoulder of a monstrous hole only mid way down Itanda Falls with ominous features like “the ashtray” and “the bad place” located very much in play just downstream. Surfing the Cuban with intimidating features laying in wait just behind adds an additional level of mental preparation to motivate out onto the wave. When all was said and done, stage 1 delivered 6 swims in different features throughout the rapid with numerous eddy line mystery moves and chaotic beat downs in the features below.
Recently crowned ICF World Champion Quim Fontane (CAT) took the first ride of the day and instantly threw an airscrew that turned the competition up a notch. As the water continued to rise, Heat 1 stepped up to Quim’s challenge and freestyle heavy hitters Dane Jackson (USA), Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA), Andrey Pesterov, (RUS) and Aiofe Hanrahan (IRE) began to raise the bar as they all made incredible use of there time on the water. Highlights from the first heat included 17-year-old Junior ICF World Champion Tom Dolle (FRA) showing absolutely no fear and charging through the thick of Itanda Falls to surf the Cuban. In addition to Tom Dolle (FRA) crushing, Tom Dunhpy (IRE) laid it out with a massive back-pan am and Adrian Mattern (GER) claimed it for the crowd after having his helmet snatched off his head after a hefty helix. Following an intense hour of riding from heat 1, they gave way to heat 2 and the action sky-rocketed right back up to the top level.
Heat 2 featured a brilliant international cast that were prepared to match, and surpass the bar set by heat 2. Bren Orton (UK), Darby McAdams (USA), Raoul Collentour (NED), and Kalob Grady (CAN). Highlights of heat 2 included Amina Nakirya (UGA) fighting her way back to the wave after a savage swim early in the heat. In addition to Anima’s honey badger effort, heat 2 encompassed Bartosz Czaudera (POL) shredding every ride, 14-year-old Kaelin Friedenson (USA) displaying that he belongs in this competition and Sadat Kawawa (UGA) putting on a show for the entirety of the local crowd. The water began to recede as the clock continued to count down on heat 2 and competitors were conscious that the wave was becoming more challenging. This new adversity fueled athletes to persevere against the river gods and use every minute their advantage.
In the final minutes of stage 1, the water started to drop noticeably. The wave flattened, athlete’s energy levels dropped and stage 1 was in the books. An astonishing day 1 of UNLEASHEDxUganda saw Dane Jackson (USA) ride 3 substantial combo tricks to the top of the podium as he looks to defend his UNLEASHED title. Bren Orton (UK), Kalob Grady (CAN), Quim Fontane (CAT) and Bartosz Czaudera (POL) earned places in the top 5 with a variety of large, stylish aerial manoeuvers and creative combo’s. Local shredder Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA) claimed 6th place in front of a home crowd and proved to the entire athlete field to not count him out over the course of the competition. In the women’s division, defending UNLEASHED champion Darby McAdams (USA) took the top place in stage 1, while early front runner for the honey badger award Amina Nakirya persevered through early troubles to claim second place. Aoife Hanrahan (IRE) rounded out the top 3.
Coming up next in stage 2 is the BoaterX race that will take place Monday January 8th on the formidable Dead Dutchman rapid. Stage 2 will test the skills and abilities of all athletes, in addition to their mental strength as 6 racers battle it out down one of the biggest rapids in the world!
1st – Darby McAdams
2nd – Amina Nakirya
3rd – Aoife Hanrahan
T-4th – Lowri Davies
T-4th – Katie Kowalski
1st – Dane Jackson
2nd – Bren Orton
3rd – Kalob Grady
4th – Quim Fontane
5th – Bartosz Czaudera
6th – Yusuf Basalirwa
7th – Raoul Collenteur
8th – Tom Dolle
9th – Tom Dunphy
10th – Craig Ayers