By Mike McKay
The state of Veracruz, Mexico has been steadily gaining a reputation as a world-class paddling destination for both intermediate and expert paddlers alike. A lot of its appeal centers around the various sections of the Alseseca River, ranging from Class II to V, and all reasonably accessible. Every January, the owners of the Aventurec resort in Tlapacoyan have organized a race on the "Roadside" section of the river. Described best as Class V fun with Class III consequences, the section features a continuous stream of fun but clean drops ending in pools--ones just big enough to recover from a poor line or pick up the pieces after a swim, without dampening the action. This creates access without undue risk to newer paddlers still trying their hand at creeking.
Unfortunately, one common sight on the river (prior to paddler cleanups) has often been accumulations of trash in the eddies. As such, part of the goal in organizing the Alseseca race is to educate the local community on the intrinsic value of this type of river for local tourism and the value of keeping it clean and of reducing litter. To this end, the post-race party is held in town and everyone is invited to hear about the race and see footage of the river and the racers. Further, Antonio Reynoso, one of the principal organizers, uses the event and the river’s international destination paddling appeal to reinforce the stewardship concept with the local media. While a slow process, their media campaign has gained traction, including the recent relocation of the local dump to prevent waste washing into the river with every heavy rain. The growing international exposure for the region also provides obvious economic benefits. Rafting and kayaking tourism personally changed the life of one of the racers, Vicente Martinez. Prior to his introduction to whitewater, he was a farmer, an uncertain profession in the best of times. The income from his plantations is now supplemented from tourism and rafting income that leads to greater financial stability--though he might view the excitement of paddling itself as an even greater life change.
The race has certainly gained momentum both in terms of competitor quantity, and in quality, attracting known paddlers to the region. This year was no exception with over 50 racers from around the world, and lots of “known” racers, including large contingents from Team Jackson and Quebec Connection, an upcoming team of young paddlers from Canada. The race contains a short course which allows recreational paddlers the excitement of racing while not having to run "S-Bend," the most intimidating drop on the section. Of course, international paddlers are not the only ones competing. Local paddlers were out in force; the short-course race was won by Mexico’s Rafael Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, the father-son tandem of Eric and Dane Jackson scored a tie on the full course. It as rewarding sweep for the Jacksons, as E.J., along with son-in-law Nick Troutman (third place) and Team Jackson paddler Rafa Ortiz (fifth place) all have a history with the Alseseca. In 2008, they completed an exploratory run that linked various previously known and certain previously unexplored sections of the river together. Their return to support the race and the area was a welcome one as the Rio Alseseca is central to the region's attractiveness to paddlers worldwide--while area rivers have long been rafted, with riverside ruins adding to the appeal of these trips, kayak tourism adds a new, exciting dimension to the region.
Great intentions aside, the event itself was a blast. Outside of the video work (see above), I had a great time racing and hitting the finish line to celebrate with a great crew of paddlers and friends, old and new. While I didn't win, I was happy with my lines and enjoyed the excitement of finishing to the cheers of the assembled crowd. We lucked out with a hot sunny day which added to everyone's good mood.
Check the Aventurec sire HERE for more details and full results.