Malabar River Festival 2018 – Day 5, Super Final
The Malabar River Festival, Day 5, Who Will Reign?
By: Anna Bruno
The mist rose over the lush mountain jungle and the sun showed its face just in time for the Super Finals, the fifth and final event of the 2018 Malabar River Festival. The event, held in Kerala, the South-Westernmost state in India, has garnered a lot of attention the past few years, and for a good reason.
The event organizers are not wrong to call this the largest whitewater festival in Asia, with thousands of spectators and dozens of competitors from across the globe. The ambitious event is now in its sixth incarnation, and it is only getting bigger and better, with competitors from 19 countries and ten nationalities represented in Sunday’s Super Finals alone.
The previous events, a Freestyle Competition, a Slalom Race, and a BoaterX, all served as qualifying races to determine who would compete in Sunday’s Super Final. On the line was the title of Rapid Rani and Rapid Raja, as well as a significant cash purse. The top 20 over-all men would battle it out Sickline style, one racer’s time was pitted against another’s to see who would advance to the final.
Shuttles drove away from Bulikayam early on Sunday morning, loaded with kayaks and people. A short hike down a narrow, stone-lined path opened up to the Iruvanjipuzha River and the impressive Malabar Express rapid, where a 20-foot ramp and hundreds of curious faces waited. Many of the athletes had only seen the Malabar Express at significantly higher flows earlier in the week, and were relieved to see the technical, grade 4+ rapid that waited. There was just enough time to dial in race lines and practice laps before the athlete briefing, the shuttle honking furiously as it wove its way through the congested streets.
Launching off ramp meant a short sprint through boogie-water before a boof into a slide that narrowly avoided a series of holes. If competitors weren’t careful, they could get caught and tumbled violently; a disappointing end to a race day. Below the holes the river opened up into a series of channels. No mandatory lines meant racers had the option of going left, right, or center. Left was the safer choice, avoiding a sticky pourover, but right was fastest. Below the split the river funnelled back together to end the race with a big water feel and a few hydraulics capable of catching out even the top racers.
The skies cleared just in time for the ladies to start off the day. They had two runs, of which their best single time would count. Clean lines put Martina Wegman on top after the first lap, but it was French-woman Nouria Newman who put on the gas in her final run to take the Rapid Rani title ahead of Wegman and Nicole Mansfield (USA). 20 men raced one at a time down the course following the women’s first run, each attempting to best one other man’s time, head to head style. The top ten, plus two lucky losers, made it through to finals. The spicy, 400-meter long course offered plenty of opportunity for surprises. Local super-stars Amit Thapa and Ashish Rawat raced alongside Mike Dawson, Dane Jackson, Bren Orton and Gerd Serrasolses, every individual giving it everything they had.
The eddy below the finish line filled as racer after racer waited to see the remaining competitor’s times displayed on the electronic system, speculating who would finish on top. Cheers erupted as New Zealand’s Mike Dawson came across the finish line to claim the win and the Rapid Raja title ahead of young German Adrian Mattern, with the USA’s Dane Jackson in third.
After revelling in a bit of sunshine and sharing a delicious lunch from Chechi’s, Pro and Intermediate paddlers gathered for a stoke float below the race course down to the take-out bridge. The crowds upstream should have been a good indication of the spectacle below, but nothing could have prepared paddlers for the thousands of faces who had gathered to watch, support and get their own little taste of the Malabar.
Indian music played as everyone waited for the award ceremony to begin; locals danced with the surprised competitors and too-many selfies to count were taken by all. GoPro cameras were out to capture the magic, the perfect device to brave the monsoon. Speeches by local politicians and the Director of Tourism for Kerala opened the ceremony; followed by speeches by the event organizers. Before the awards for each event and category were called, Gerd Serrasolses came on stage to introduce his Shasta Boys Program, a free, weeklong kayak school for a hand-selected group of up and coming paddlers.
One by one, the prizewinners enjoyed a moment of glory on stage. Sagaar Gurung won the title of Best Asian paddler and a GoPro Session before the Rapid Raja and Rani were crowed. Local administrators bequeathed a towering golden crown to Mike Dawson and a sparkling tiara to Nouria Newman. The two greeted their subjects, waving from the back of a truck as dusk fell. The resultant parade through the streets was a majestic conclusion to five festive days of paddling, competition and camaraderie.
The impact of an event like the Malabar Festival is undeniable. The scale of the event is something to behold, and while many walked away physically enriched; clutching checks for thousands of rupees, the wealth that comes from taking part in something special and the joy of discovering a new place was shared by all.
For full results, visit MalabarFest.com
MEN’S SUPER PRO FINALS
- Mike Dawson (NZ) 1:27.92
- Adrian Mattern (GE) 1:28.47
- Dane Jackson (USA) 1:28.71
- Gerd Serrasolses (Catalonia) 1:29.20
- Kalob Grady (CA) 1:30.01
- Bren Orton (GBR) 1:31.41
- Philip Baues (GER) 1:31.60
- Nick Troutman (CA) 1:33.80
- Amit Thapa (NE) 1:35.55
- Ashish Rawat (IN) 1:35. 79
WOMEN’S SUPER PRO FINAL
- Nouria Newman (FR) 1:34.96
- Martina Wegman (NL) 1:36.02
- Nicole Mansfield (USA) 1:43.44
- Molly Agar (GBR) 1:46.51
- Anna Bruno (USA) 1:53.28