Photo gallery courtesy International Rafting Federation
The Arabian Desert of Dubai might seem more suitable for camels than rafting competitors, but that didn't stop the International Rafting Federation from staging its 2016 R4 World Rafting Championships on the man-made whitewater course at the five-year-old Wadi Adventure Center November 2-5.
Competing in four-paddler (R4) races in Sprint, Head-to-Head, Downriver and Slalom, the event drew 87 rafting teams from 28 countries, all showcasing their skills in front of His Highness Sheikh Muhammad bin Khalifa bin Sultan bin Shakhbout Al Nahyan.
While racing in the desert is somewhat new, bringing competitors to man-made, concrete-lined courses isn't.
"All R4 events are held on artificial courses," says IRF board member Rafael Gallo. "It's our strategy to get it into the Olympics."
The first one, he adds, was in held in 2010 in the Netherlands at a park in Zotemeer. Two years ago, another event was held on the artificial Olympic course in Iguazu, Brazil.
This year's concrete contest was directed at the desert of Dubai on the park's feature known as the "Jeep Channel," a 660-meter-long flume dropping 12 meters in elevation with 11 cubic meters per second (cumecs) of water volume. The largest rapid, strategically in front of the VIP building, is called "Sheikhs Drop."
"We have four pumps, and it takes three of them to run 11 cumecs," says the park's Rowan Foley of the five-year-old course. "When it was built they had to build a pipe to the ocean to transport de-salinated water because the city didn’t have a big enough fresh water supply."
Located at the foot of Jebel Hafeet, nestled among the hot springs and natural cave systems of the Green Mubazzrah, Wadi is the Middle East's first man-made whitewater rafting, kayaking and surfing destination. It also offers an airpark, zip line, giant swing, climbing wall, family pool and more in its bid to become the Middle East's ultimate destination for adventurous visitors.
This past weekend, those adventurers consisted of some of the world's best rafters, including a local Dubai team comprised of officers from the Abu Dhabi police force. After the first two days of action, in front of a throng of spectators lining the bank, Brazil, Russia, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, Norway and Japan came up with the best performances, topping the day's Open, Masters (40+), Under 19 and Under 23 divisions.
Then, in the coveted Open Downriver category, which required each team to grab their raft and portage along shore to the finish line in the desert heat, frontrunner Brazil eeked out the gold barely ahead of Russia, with Argentina taking the bronze. The win was enough to earn Brazil 937 total points and claim the top overall crown, with Czech finishing second with 792 and Argentina third with 785 points. For the women's overall, Great Britain edged out the Czech Republic 952 to 835 points, with Japan finishing third shortly behind at 825 points.
The USA Men, meanwhile, finished in eleventh place overall with 515 points, with the USA Women coming it in eighth place overall with 603 points.
But no one could have been more proud than the host nation and venue, which saw international competitors for the first time. "We are honored to have hosted the 2016 World Rafting Championship at our facility in Al Ain," says Wadi GM Nilesh Mistry, whose event was held in cooperation with H.H. Sheikh Nahyan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council. "I congratulate all of the winning teams and am glad we were able to host such a successful event."
While it might not have made the podium, his local team fared decently considered its parched-earth practice grounds. "We're always happy to have new nations join the association and this year's UAE National Team didn't disappoint anyone at all," says IRF president Joe Willie Jones. "We expect to see big improvements in their performance in the future would be happy to see them eventually get in the winner's circle."
As for the venue itself, he adds that it's a great course that kept racers on their toes. "It was a great, exciting event that shaped up to be one of the championship's most hotly contested editions," he says. "We congratulate all the winning teams, as well as everyone else who came out to compete."
Sprint - Under 19 Men: 1st Brazil, 2nd Germany, 3rd Argentina; Under 19 Women: 1st Russia, 2nd Great Britain, 3rd Italy; Under 23 Men: 1st Brazil, 2nd Great Britain, 3rd Czech Republic; Under 23 Women: 1st Great Britain, 2nd Japan, 3rd Brazil; Open Men: 1st Czech Republic, 2nd Argentina, 3rd Brazil; Open Women: 1st Czech Republic, 2nd Slovenia, 3rd Japan; Master Men (40+): 1st Czech Republic, 2nd Slovenia, 3rd Japan; Master Women (40+): 1st Japan, 2nd New Zealand, 3rd Czech Republic.
Head to Head - Under 19 Men: 1st Russia, 2nd Brazil, 3rd Germany; Under 19 Women: 1st Russia, 2nd Great Britain, 3rd Italy; Under 23 Men: 1st Czech Republic, 2nd Great Britain, 3rd Brazil; Under 23 Women: 1st Brazil, 2nd Czech Republic, 3rd Great Britain; Open Men: 1st Czech Republic, 2nd Great Britain, 3rd Brazil; Open Women: 1st Great Britain, 2nd Czech Republic, 3rd Japan; Master Men (40+): 1st Czech Republic, 2nd Slovenia, 3rd Japan; Master Women (40+): 1st Norway, 2nd, Czech Republic, 3rd Japan
Downriver (Women's Open): 1 Great Britain; 2 Czech Republic; 3 Netherlands. (Men's Open): 1 Brazil; 2 Russia; 3 Argentina.
Full Downriver Results:
Overall Women: 1 Great Britain; 2 Czech Republic; 3 Japan
Overall Men: 1 Brazil; 2 Czech Republic; 3 Argentina
Full Overall Results: http://www.internationalrafting.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/WRC-2016-Overall.pdf