Faces of: Nujiang River Race

Mountain Mind Collective's look at China's colorful new Kayak Mania contest

In the latest installment of Mountain Mind Collective’s ‘Faces’ series, Todd and Brendan Wells chronicle China’s first-ever Nujiang River Race, an innovative three-contest event hosted March 19-22 on a high-water section of southern China’s mighty Nujiang (aka Salween). Brendan gives us the lowdown on this Red Bull China-sponsored competitive first, promoted as Red Bull Kayak Mania:

“Red Bull China worked with a primary Chinese television network to produce several long shows (two-plus hours!) that were televised nationally across China after the event. They also produced several short videos for the Web. Here’s the only Red Bull Kayak Mania broadcast clip I found that loads well, with several other links below it that show the other shows/webisodes.

Click to watch a clip from the Chinese broadcast of this weekend's Red Bull Kayak Mania.

Click to watch a clip from the Chinese broadcast of this weekend’s Red Bull Kayak Mania.

All three of the events (head-to-head boatercross, freestyle, and ‘stay upright challenge’) were held on basically the same section of the Nujiang, with the different competition sites within 45 minutes of each other by bus. The nearest city to the event was Gòngshān. We called the rapid of the Boater X race Tiger Eagle Rapid, the freestyle event was at the Zen Wave, and the Stay Upright Challenge was held on the first section of the three-tiered Tiger Jumping Rapid (not to be confused with Tiger Leaping Rapid on the Yangtze River), which is the first rapid of the Nujiang’s Tiger Jumping Rocks section.

The Boater X race was about two and a half minutes long, starting with a grueling 45-second flatwater sprint immediately into the first, largest and most consequential rapid, which presented two clear lines: Go left for the faster and more direct line through the seam of a huge hole, with a risk of getting stopped and/or beat down in the hole; or, air to the right of the hole, sacrificing time for a potentially cleaner line. After that crux move, the course moved through several wave trains, dodging huge holes into a finale that meant cutting into a strong eddy as high as possible for a tough ferry to the finish.

Clockwise from top left: Brendan Wells (USA), Chris Gragtmans (CAN), Dane Jackson (USA), Martina Wegman (NED), Xian Junguang (CHN), Todd Wells (USA), Nick Troutman (CAN), Max Karlsson (SWE).

Clockwise from top left: Brendan Wells (USA), Chris Gragtmans (CAN), Dane Jackson (USA), Martina Wegman (NED), Xian Junguang (CHN), Todd Wells (USA), Nick Troutman (CAN), Max Karlsson (SWE).

The Stay Upright Challenge was unique to say the least — especially without the option for any practice laps. The challenge was to, well, stay upright throughout the entire rapid. Meaning that, if any axis of your boat went beyond 90 degrees, you were disqualified. You were also required to make it left of the huge rock at the bottom of the rapid, making the challenge much more difficult and consequential. Because of the scale of the rapid and that requirement to go left, all of the competitors — except Dane, Todd and myself — decided not to run the rapid. So the three of us would attempt the rapid individually as there was a very consequential, sieve-filled rapid just downstream with minimal time for rescue attempts. We drew names out of a hat, and I went first, followed by Dane, then Todd. The rapid pushed me hard left, straight into the two biggest holes, flipping and injuring my shoulder somewhere in the chaos. Dane went second and barely made it through upright, but made it nonetheless. Todd came very close to staying upright as well, but got pushed sideways into the last major hole, flipping him. Winner: Dane. Here’s the rest of the results from a stacked international field.

RESULTS
Whitewater Head-to-Head Race — 1, Dane Jackson (USA). 2, Nick Troutman (CAN). 3, Todd Wells (USA). 4, Brendan Wells (USA). 5, tie: Max Karlsson (SWE), Chris Wing (USA), Xian Junguang (CHN), Chris Gragtmans (CAN). 8, tie: Li Xiaoqing (CHN), Zou Yingying (CHN), Yang Fan (CHN).
Freestyle Competition — 1, Dane Jackson (USA). 2, Nick Troutman (CAN). 3, Max Karlsson (SWE). 4, Chris Gragtmans (CAN). 5, Brendan Wells (USA). 6, Martina Wegman (NED). 6, Xian Junguang (CHN). 7, Todd Wells (USA).
Stay Upright Challenge — Dane Jackson (USA). Unsuccessful: Todd Wells (USA), Brendan Wells (USA).

Stay tuned to CanoeKayak.com to read more about the Nujiang as we count down the Most Threatened Paddling Classics and reveal No. 4 on our list tomorrow.

Check out the photo essay and story from our August 2014 issue on Saving China’s Salween River

Click to watch the first installment of Mountain Mind Collective’s ‘Faces of: Rey del Rio’.

— Watch the two-part ‘Journey to the Stikine and Sacred Headwaters’, the latest in a series of MMC feature episodes debuting exclusively on CanoeKayak.com, and stay tuned for the premiere of ‘Backyard Ventures.’ Follow MMC on VIMEO and FACEBOOK.