Sarapiqui River Festival 2019 (Costa Rica)
Words: Zander Ulmer
Photography: Kalob Grady
The Sarapiqui River Festival was born as a strategy to promote the importance of conserving and protecting the beautiful Sarapiqui River while promoting river sports and providing local youth and families the opportunity to get on the river and try out rafting and kayaking. The first Sarapiqui River Festival began in 2011 as a joint effort with Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat and World Class Kayak Academy students who wanted to give back to the community.
After a two-year hiatus, World Class Academy once again partnered with Meghan and Davis of Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat and local community organization, Chilamate Activo, to see the return of the Festival.
The 2019 festival started early on a Saturday morning as contestants arrived at the put in for the Upper Sarapiqui. Kayakers registered, had their safety gear checked, and then prepared for a 45-minute long partner race downstream. After a brief racer meeting and safety talk, the race started. Pairs left with one-minute intervals between them and paddled their fastest through the 5-mile stretch. After the first two miles of continuous grade III-IV boulder garden, the river flattens off and feeds different channels. From there, it was an endurance game. Finding the fastest channel was key, because most of the wrong channels dried up quickly. Pairs of racers arrived at the finish and rested on shore. The race may have been complete but the festival was far from over.
The next day, locals from near and far arrived to celebrate the Sarapiqui River. People gathered at the entrance to the Chilamate River Lodge, where a small rapid feeds into a wide, flat pool. Music played loudly as people swam and played in the river. Students from World Class Academy lent their boats and paddling gear to the locals and showed them some of the basic fundamentals of paddling. The students helped young children get over their fear of the river and taught them how to take advantage of the amazing resource that they have in their backyard. Some children who had never swam before in their lives were equipped with lifejackets and supported as they went into the water for the first time. After some of the local children gainded confidence paddling around in the flat eddy and peeling out into the current, the students helped them walk their boats up to the top of the small rapid just upsstream to let them get their first taste of whitewater.
After hours of playing in the water, it was time for the awards ceremony. Locals Andre and Roberto claimed third, followed by a second local pair Julio and Braulio. Claiming first place was local paddler and World Class Academy Alumni Oscar Arguedas with his partner Todd Wells, WCA program director. World Class students Rachel Buys and Maddie Kimmel took first for the women’s class.
The Sarapiqui River Festival is an awesome event that brings the community together. It was incredible to see the locals enjoying the beautiful river and to see the youth discovering this amazing resource. Lastly, it was amazing opportunity for the students of World Class Academy. Introducing whitewater kayaking into these young kids lives and inspiring a love for the river was better than any prize or race placing. All the students hope that this newfound love of the river will stay with them forever.