Inside UNLEASHED x Uganda – Day 3 Nile Special Freestyle Report + Results
Stage 3: Nile Special Freestyle presented by Kokatat
A relaxed atmosphere surrounded the athletes as UNLEASHEDxUganda competitors prepared for stage 3: The Nile Special freestyle. After opening the event with two intimidating stages, athletes were in high spirits whilst equipping themselves for a “best ride counts” freestyle competition on one of the best waves in the world. Nile Special has been on the radar of white-water kayakers since the mid 2000’s and has played a major role in the progression of big wave freestyle. Since its discovery, it has provided a warm water, year round location for freestyle connoisseurs to develop their skills. This truly special place, located at the bottom of the white-water section of the White Nile played a tremendous host to stage 3 of UNLEASHEDxUganda.
The stoke was high as we arrived at Nile Special in preparation for a technical freestyle competition on this progressively significant wave. However, in the back of everybody’s minds was the knowledge of the monolithic concrete structure just downstream that is slowly ticking down the time that we have left with this dreamlike destination. The Isimba Dam is a controversial hydroelectric project that will flood a large portion of the remaining whitewater on the top section of the White Nile in addition to displacing 3000 inhabitants from their local villages. The locations of the first 2 stages, Itanda Falls and the Dead Dutchman will be relatively unaffected by the project but Nile Special is destined for a different fate. Upon completion of this high cost hydroelectric project later this spring, Nile Special will be the first of many rapids to slowly sink into the depths of the Isimba reservoir.
To ensure premium water levels for every ride throughout the day, organizers and athletes unanimously decided for an early start. Departing Nile River Explores at 8am for a long drive down to the magical Hairy Lemon island. Athletes, volunteers and the media team reached their destination as the water level entered a prime flow and quickly unloaded the trailer, geared up and kayaked the short ½ km upstream from the island to the Nile Special rapid. As soon as the judge’s camera, the media team heat 1 athletes were in place, things got rolling.
The format and scoring system used in the Nile Special Freestyle were created by the organizers for the first UNLEASHED last year in Quebec, but they were unable to unveil the system on the right wave back then. Nile Special was the right wave. The format for stage 3 was simple, every athlete was given 6 rides, with a max time of 90 seconds per ride. There was no trick limit and the athletes best ride was the only one that counted. The scoring system used, was a little more complex. Three judges were assigned different roles as they scored the ride. Judge 1 was focused on judging the validity of the tricks thrown, and assigning the amplitude bonus if it applied. Judge 2 was focused on observing the style of the athlete’s tricks and assigning an overall steeze score to the ride. Judge 3 looked over the fluidity of the entire ride and assigned a flow multiplier based on how active and smooth a rider was on the wave. The overall objective of this new scoring system was to reward style, air and fluidity and to encourage riders to work the wave to their advantage, instead of waiting for the wave to provide a pass. Upon conclusion of stage 3, all 4 organizers were exhilarated with how well the system functioned in a real competition as the day unfolded.
Heat 1 hit the wave as water levels continued to rise into prime time flows. Dane Jackson (USA) took the wave first as the overall event leader after 2 stages and set the bar high, early. Athletes took advantage of the progressive score system to work the perfect wave and throw huge tricks. Knowing they only needed a single ride to score, riders left it all on the line and pushed each other to the highest limits. Quim Fontane (CAT) kept in stride with Dane Jackson throughout heat 1 and displayed his pure athleticism on his final ride with explosive, stylish tricks that propelled him onto the podium. Quinton Kennedy (CAN) stole the show in heat 2 with one astonishing ride in which he laid down massive tricks in succession to continue his remarkable week of kayaking. Kalob Grady (CAN) took the water in heat 3 and recovered form his misfortunes in the Dead Dutchman BoaterX with a stack of consistent, high scoring rides. David Silk (USA) came back to life after taking off Stage 2 with an injury to thrill the crown with a massive sasquatch, which was easily one of the biggest tricks of the day. Other incredible feats throughout the men’s rides in Stage 3 included Bartosz Czauderna (POL) flashing a few extremely flashy spin-helix combo’s and Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA) continuing his push to the podium of the overall standings with a few flashes of brilliance that made it clear that Nile Special is his home wave. The water continued to rise as the men’s category unfolded with excitement all the way to the finish and the event progressed towards the women’s.
The women’s skills were on full display as they took to the wave. Darby McAdams (USA) lead the women off with and exhibited to everybody exactly why she is the defending UNLEASHED champion. Katie Kowalski (CAN) showcased her background as an Ottawa Valley girl and drew from her big wave background to shred Nile Special. Lowri Davies (UK) also flashed feats of her big wave prowess with an amazing final ride to secure her place on the podium.
The day started with limitless potential in regards to establishing UNLEASHEDxUganda as a progressive freestyle competition. A new scoring system, in combination with a perfect wave gave the athletes full creative to control to display their own skills on the highest level. The bittersweet thought that this beautiful place is going to disappear in the near future did not restrict the amount of stoke shared among athletes throughout the day. The conclusion of the Nile Special freestyle was followed by good ol’ lifestylin’ times as athletes floated down to the Hairy Lemon island to celebrate the success of stage 3, and the good times in general. Check out the Stage 3 edit, presented by Kokatat for all the action.
Coming up next in 4th and final stage of UNLEASHEDxUganda is the Hair of the Dog Mass Start race on Friday Jan 12th. Tune in Friday to watch 29 athletes battle it out head to head down one of the White Nile’s most chaotic rapids. You won’t want to miss this epic conclusion that will ultimately decide where all athlete find themselves on the results table for UNLEASHEDxUganda.
1- Darby McAdams
2 – Katie Kowalski
3 – Lowri Davies
1 – Dane Jackson
2 – Kalob Grady
3 – Quim Fontane
4 – Quinton Kennedy
5 – Bartosz Czauderna
6 – Yusuf Basalirwa
7 – Alan Ward
8 – Tom Dolle
9 – Jakob Hanoulle
10 – Raoul Collenteur