New Years Eve, January 31, 2013.
A colourful array of kayaks float down the Bridge to Baeza section of the Rio Quijos. The sound of hulls smashing down on the aerated water resonates across the river as paddlers soar off boof rocks. Huge smiles accompanied by fist pumps and hoots create a atmosphere of pure joy and camaraderie. Ten skilled kayakers have just competed in a race and now are floating down the next section as friends instead of rivals. This moment embodies the spirit of kayak competition alive and well in Ecuador.
The Cheese House river race in a idea of Abe Herrera, owner of Boof Sessions in Baeza Ecuador. Whitewater kayak racing has many forms, boater cross style where paddlers race head to head, slalom racing through gates, or team creek racing to name a few. Creek racing seems to be taking the spotlight from other forms of kayak competition because of it’s exciting and easy to follow nature. The Cheese House race aims to bring awareness to the Quijos valley and the abundant quality whitewater to be explored. Teams of two paddlers looked after their own safety and raced down in two minute intervals. Five teams in all with two female paddlers representing and paddlers from all over the world in attendance.
The particular section the race was hosted on is a favourite among travelling kayakers of the class IV kind. With larger volume style creeking drops into pools, the section gives paddlers a chance to practice committing moves and train for more demanding runs like the Papallacta and Topo River. Close to the town of Baeza and highway side makes car scouting or egress points easier than most jungle rivers. A quick warm up section of various boofs and sexy moves leads to a rapid named “Made in Ecuador” that was created when a oil pipeline spanning the river was constructed along with a new curve in the river filled by jagged broken rocks and unnatural charc.(see The Squirt Book for explanation of CHARC by James E Snyder, illustrated by William Nealy) Every year the rapid evolves as the power of mother nature slowly tries to right the wrongs done by excavators. The next move of the river is at a rapid newly named “Das Boof” another evolving rapid that has been made easier and less backed up over the years. After the river left move on Das Boof there is a solid section of boogie water and of course endless boofs that leads to “Power House” rapid next to a noisy station where racers can choose between a curving boof line on the left or a seem ride to ledge boof on the right. The entire flow leads to a sporty little hole that demands a straight boat and momentum. Continuing on down the river is one of the most amazing sequence of holes and ledges named “The Labyrinth”. True to it’s name, the flow of the Quijos takes you through a maze in between rocks and a small drop to meaty hole marking the finish line and the end to a super awesome race.
Race times between nine and twelve minutes with the winning time at 9:17, congrats to Jeremy Bisson and Abe Herrera. Second place went to Raphael Boudreault and Chris Ryman with Romain and Eric finishing tight one second behind for a valiant third place finish. Many paddlers have made their way down the cheese house but not often at such a pace. Racers had to balance between paddling hard on the class II sections in between rapids while conserving energy for the bigger more committing lines ahead. A deep breath and momentary pause was all that most paddlers had before plunging into a steep and powerful class IV+ drop that could mean potential injury if miscalculated. Knowledge of the lines, stamina, and for sure some big huevos a requirement of all racers that day. Safety conscious decisions including a volunteer safety kayaker and the two paddler per team format insured nothing but smiles and breathless kayakers emerged from the finish line.
After the racers finished they pooled in the eddy below to cheer on friends as they pulled through. Below the race course we continued in a merry group of ten down the rest of the cheese house section and the next run known as Bridge to Baeza. Birthday eddies, huge boofs, high fives, and stoke was par for the course on the cool down run out to the take out. No other sport in the world can provide such a surreal finish to a competition where everyone on the water understands the importance of living in the moment and looking out for your brothers and sisters as you flow through the veins of mother earth. Cheers to all racers and organizers for making the final day of 2013 so positive, fresh, and inspiring.