Waimak Classic Kayak Race: Tips for first timers and the well versed.

The Waimak Classic River Race Series is a must do iconic event for anyone who can or wants to learn how to kayak, build up to Coast to Coast or race some great local paddlers! Odelios Ruegg gives us  a few lessons from the mistakes he may have made!

Odelios in the waimak river on a ruahine kayak

Better prepared here than in the race mentioned!

Held on the beautiful grade two Wamakariri River in Canterbury and put on by a fantastic crew and the Arawa Canoe Club, that make this event safe and fun. So, what can go wrong? A few things it turns out.

This year’s event for me was a case of Murphy’s Law! Getting to the start line only a little scared of the windy forecast, I was excited to put a winter of kayak training into practice. I was feeling confident having recently been down the river several times without incident. Starting at the back of the field with the open men everything was looking up when we got the whistle to go! Four hundred meters into the race when the flow narrows onto the right-hand bank I made my first mistake; trying to work my way forward through a large group of tightly packed paddlers, I decided to try my luck on the outside of the flow.  And then all of a sudden, my race was about to end.

Canterbury has some stunning places to paddle.

Canterbury has some amazing places to paddle.

I felt a bang at the back of my boat, and started spinning out. A paddler had gone straight over the back of my kayak, pushing the nose into an eddy. I was helplessly at the mercy of the river, and all the other paddlers, who now found the tail of my boat in the middle of their race line… and one after another they crashed over it, and also, over my rudder.

By the time I’d sorted myself out (yes, I may have had a wee swim) the field was well and truly out of site! As I navigated the braids leading towards the rock gardens then the gorge I realized I was having to rely heavily on my edges and paddling to steer. While far from ideal, I was able to paddle up until the third rock garden. Here however, when trying to push my footplate forward, I found my foot flying without any resistance! The next second, I was underwater! After sorting myself out (again) I realized not only was the rudder cord snapped, but the rudder was loose in its bracket, hence the trouble steering.

No Rudder? No Worries!

No rudder? No worries!

After some help from the safety officials at the rapid and Richard Ussher, who was paddling through behind the race, I was able to get going again, however still with a loose hanging rudder. I soon passed my last chance to pull out of the race before the gorge but liked the idea of following Richard Ussher and seeing his lines and I had been able to steer my kayak this far. The gorge was a mission of using all of my edging and railing abilities to keep the boat moving forward. Despite spinning out several times and losing site of Richard, I had begone to catch the back field of the race! I made it out to Woodstock absolutely shattered and totally over it, but thought the last section out of the gorge might be easier to navigate so I paddled on.

Turns out, by this point the wind had well and truly picked up and was in full force, so it was anything but easier!  My boat got blown around over the final stretch of the river – but hey – I made it to the finish line!

River race finish line with a smile

Made it to the finish line, that smile masks a world of pain!

No one really wants a race like that, so here are a few bits of advice you can take away from my mistakes! 

  • Race the prologues! These are a fantastic series of events leading up to the big day to test yourself against Canterbury’s best paddlers or to make it down the river for the first time in a safe environment.
  • Check you have all your gear the night before, then check again! Yes, I may have been that person that turned up to a kayak race without a paddle (or spare rudder wire)! Oops…
  • Get amongst the people and make friends, helps when you are silly enough to do the above but lucky enough to know someone that’ll lend you their paddle!
  • Practice your river skills! Goes without saying really but speaking from experience when you break your rudder in the first 400metres of a race it helps to be able to navigate rapids and bluffs with your edges!

 Odelios Ruegg is a FurtherFaster Athlete, Montane New Zealand Ambassador and all time top bloke. He makes a mean coffee too.

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