Story and photos by Mike McKay
Each year, many of the world’s best kayakers descend upon Voss, Norway, to take part in ExtremSportVeko. 2012 was no exception. With dry, low-water conditions across much of the West, plus the inclusion of the festival week’s marquee kayak event, the Extreme Downhill Race, as a point-earning race in the 2012 AWP Whitewater World Series, it seemed that Voss was the place to be. And unlike California’s High Sierra or the Central Rockies, there was no shortage of water in Voss. Norway had a rather exceptional snow pack this year, and a melt that was just hitting its peak led to flooded rivers upon our arrival. With reports of burly rivers and stout drops, the question for competitors was how they would fare on the Brandsetelvi during the downriver race.
The race also benefited from the momentum of the series, coming off the well-executed and -attended second stage in Idaho for the first-ever North Fork Championship. With the Voss race as Stage 3 of six, the stakes were high for those looking to take home the top spot, as a top finish could nicely contribute toward a top (or at least higher) ranking in the AWP point standings.
The Brandseth, like many of the other rivers in the Voss area, was experiencing higher than normal flows during the last week in June, leading up to the race. This led to talk of a rowdy race during the nightly gatherings at the Veko festival grounds. However, levels came into a normal range within days before the race. In fact, race day proved to be a touch on the low side. That certainly didn’t deter the local crowd from gathering in great numbers to watch the race, especially given the gorgeous, sunny day. A team race, in which teams of three charged down the much steeper Upper Brandseth to the finish line of the individual race, followed the Downhill.
With crystal-blue water, clean drops and easy access, the Brandseth couldn’t be a better stage for an exciting spectator event. Certainly, the many eager Veko spectators showing up to the river to soak up the sun and gather by the crux of the Downhill race--a 7-meter steep slide/waterfall--were not disappointed.
The Downhill Extreme Race format was as follows: To advance to the second round, you had to either hit the top 15 for the men or the top 5 for the women. In both categories, the finals were stacked with many familiar international names. Last year’s overall series champion, France’s Eric Deguil, won the race, followed in second by New Zealand’s Sam Sutton, with Italy’s Michele Ramazza in third. Evan Garcia followed closely in fourth as North America’s top finisher, followed by Canadian Mikkel St. Jean-Duncan in 22nd, and Fred Norquist in 26th. After three stages, Garcia holds the top spot with 80 points, followed by Kiwi Wilz Martin in second with 65.5, and U.S. paddler Darren Albright in third with 55.5 (Click HERE for full results), as the tour moves to the Stage 4 stop at the Devils Extreme Race, Sept. 1 in the Czech Republic, followed by a stage in Austria before wrapping up Nov. 3 at North Carolina’s Green Race. (Click HERE to see the full schedule and read more.)
What I took away from the Voss stage, is that as a spectator (Yes, I did not make it to the second round), I felt a definite sense of excitement watching some of the best creek-racers in the world vie for the top spot. To me, this is what the AWP point series represents: a sense of excitement to follow competition in the sport that I love. While it is clearly in the early stages of development, these races are being shared via social media at a faster rate, thus allowing fans to follow the sport much like they would follow other more established sports. This can only mean good things for creek racing as an addition to global whitewater. Who knows, maybe 2012 will prove to go down as the year of the creek race.
Click HERE for coverage of Stage 1: The Little White Race, and HERE for our coverage from Stage 2: The North Fork Championship. Stay tuned for info and coverage from the series’ next stop.