[Eds note: As of Sept. 20, the AWP Whitewater World Series standings have been adjusted according to the finishes at the Stage 4 Devils Extreme Race. US paddler Evan Garcia has a slim, half-point lead over New Zealand’s Wilz Martin, with the Czech Republic’s Jakub Nemec in third trailed close by France’s Eric Deguil. Click HERE for full results.]
Loučovice, Czech Republic — Mother Nature may not have cooperated, but she couldn't dampen the spirits of paddlers and race organizers at the 2012 Hiko Devils Extreme Race, from Aug 28-Sept. 2. Steady, light rain and mist hampered the final few days of the sixth edition of the European Open race on the Vltava River, however those who ventured to southern Czech Republic to compete left quite satisfied. [CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE AWP WHITEWATER WORLD SERIES ELITE EXTREME RACE ON SEPT. 1.]
"The Czech Republic is a paddler country," said Eric Deguil of France, runner-up to Extreme Race winner Mike Dawson. "In France, it’s only about soccer, here there is soccer too, but you can really feel that canoe and kayaking are favorite sports. For sure, I will come back here." Deguil had more to say after the race:
"I really like the river and it’s quite hard remembering all the lines with such a long race," said Mikel Sarasola of Spain, who was sixth in 13 minutes, 19.08 seconds. "Also, I think the organization has been really good despite the unlucky weather, and the ramp and starting area are really nice too."
Nearly 5 kilometers in length, the demanding race is the fourth of six tour stops as part of the AWP Whitewater World Series, bolstering its significance on the calendar.
"I think we've made big progress over the last six years from it being an underground event with just a couple of friends racing for fun to it becoming a world series event, so we're really proud of that," said Jakub Nemec, one of the three Czech race organizers.
Not only did race honchos Nemec, Jiri Kopecny, and Miroslav Kodada deal with a jam-packed schedule of events, complicated by the persistent rain and muddy conditions, but they also managed to finish second in the team event on Friday, only bested by Dawson and Team Kiwi.
"The whole race is wicked—the guys organizing it are doing a sick job making sure that everyone is relaxed and enjoying it," said Dawson.
"I think it's cool they're racing. One of the things that holds back a lot of us from creating races is that we all want to race," joked the Kiwi. See more on Dawson’s take:
Evina Fillova of Slovakia, winner of the ladies final on Friday, also offered positive remarks.
"Lots of girls are now competing here," said Fillova, pictured below. "I've never been somewhere where there are so many categories for women. It was perfect."
In addition to men's and women's individual and team events, the program concluded on Saturday afternoon with the highly-entertaining kayak-cross races—four boats launching side-by-side off a steep 10-meter-high start ramp, with the top two finishers of each heat advancing.
Another example of the easy-going atmosphere surrounding the event, Dawson and his opponents agreed to race without paddles in the men's final with no objection from race chiefs.
Using only their arms to hand-paddle the course, Great Britain's Joe Marley was fastest, with Dawson settling for third.
The six-day festival style event was also packed with parties and bands, taking place at a muddy, yet festive campground just up the road from the race start in Loučovice. Check out third-place finisher Michele Ramazza’s take below:
Event sponsors Red Bull, Jägermeister, and Oakley had tents to keep dry and enjoy a beverage, while Czech pivo (beer), traditional sausages, pork steaks and hot garlic soup were also served up nearby.
Saturday's rain subsided just in time for the evening awards and closing musical act on stage.
Although Czech Olympic silver medalist Vávra Hradilek did not compete, instead paddling at the nearby ICF finale in Bratislava, he arrived in timely fashion for the closing party, joking with and presenting awards to his fellow kayakers.
With the Devil's Extreme Race now history, the AWP Whitewater Series enters the homestretch with the Sickline Championships in Austria, Oct. 4-7, and the season finale Green Race in North Carolina on Nov. 3.
"I think AWP is a good idea and has a lot of backing from the paddlers, it's just finding the right events and deciding what where we want the future of extreme racing to go, whether we want it to be more competitive or more fun," said Dawson.
"Events like these are really well-organized and the competition is tight—you saw it in the semifinals where eight or nine guys were stacked between one or two seconds," he said.
"Then you have other events, where there is bigger whitewater, the guys are more spaced out and the racing is more about survival. If we can get a mixture of the two (styles) with some good sponsors and prize money than that will be the future of the whole series."
Considering its rapid rise to success, positive feedback from competitors and all-around good vibe, there's little argument that the Hiko Devil's Extreme Race now belongs in the same category as other elite AWP events to follow.
"I hope the race stays super-friendly," said Nemec. "Everyone having a good time, kayaking with friends and then partying at night."
Check out more footage from the event below: