At this stage in my life it takes a special set of circumstances for me to go to a competition but when there are over 250 kayaker's gathering in a city as brilliant as Galway, how can I possibly stay away?
Galway fest was set up by Barry Loughnanne and Andrew Regan, two of my good mates and I always appreciated their honesty about this event “the waters nothing too special but it’s a great craic”. Not a lot of event organisers are capable of this level of blunt honesty.
I went to my first Galway fest in 2015 and found out that everything they said was true and more. There is indeed nothing standout about the Whitewater in Galway but the thing that has continually astonished me over the years is the passion the Irish kayaking community have for it. I love seeing how much stoke there is for the local rivers and it is a good reminder that any stretch of whitewater can provide ample opportunities for good times. The competitors that Galway fest draws are a miss match of exceedingly talented kayaker's, complete beginners and everything in between. The atmosphere at this event is simply electric, yes it’s competitive but it's the overtone of simply having a good time and not taking things too seriously that makes it so incredible to be a part of.
Galway fest is made up of three events. One freestyle, and two races.
The first event was the Freestyle comp on the Friday night at a spot called Tuam. River levels worked out perfectly this year and Tuam was working at prime levels meaning that any trick in the book was possible and there was the potential for epic rides. Prelims were a jam format and I thoroughly enjoyed watching beginners hesitantly summoning the courage to drop in, non freestyler's in slicy kayaks rocking old school paddle tricks and the likes of the current world champ, Quim Fontanne throwing down some sick tricks. The women’s finals was mainly a battle between local Irish shredder Aoiffe Hanarahn, Lowri Davies and Heidi Walsh. It was cool to see everyone’s styles coming through, Heidi had the biggest air, Lowri had the most technical tricks and Aoiffe had the local knowledge that saw her really work the spot.
The men’s finals was a 10 person heat featuring international competition kayakers and local Irish hero’s. Although I came up surfing small, technical freestyle spots, I don’t get to spend much time training or practising on this side of my kayaking anymore and I was feeling pretty rusty. I managed to put down a solid ride of a little over 1000 points which I was relatively happy with, at most events a score like that would see you on the podium. However, the world champ Quim threw down one of his trademark ballistic rides, Bartosz Czauderna hucked some really nice combos and Irish lad David Mclure blew the roof of the score sheet with a ride of over 1700 points! It was an insane finals to be a part of and again in keeping with Galway fests ethos every competitor was cheering for each other.
Saturday is the Boulisce race time trial. It is always entertaining trying to navigate a piece of Whitewater that you don’t know well, especially in a race run, when you are trying to go fast. I actually really like this event because it pushes my “read and run” ability pretty hard. The main rapid is right at the bottom of the course and it is simply fantastic to watch the carnage that occurs here, it is totally safe as it ends in flatwater and the crowd cheers the loudest for swimmers.
Saturday nights party is the hardest part of the comp for me. There are many stories of what I was getting up to on Saturday night but to hear it from the horses mouth... I had a few quiet whiskies, went into town, had a few more quiet drinks and then I went home. That is my story and I am sticking to it.
The final event is a boater X down the river that flows through Galway town, it is wild. The Irish are savage racers and the competition is fierce. In the overall standings myself, Barry Loughanne, Quim and Lucien Schreiber where all closely ranked and each in prime position to win the whole event. We were allocated starting positions next to each other on top of the main bridge in Galway before being pushed off to start the race. I had a slow start but managed to claw my way back throughout the race and finish just behind Barry.
In the end I left this weekend with some new friends, some great times with old ones and a savage hang over. I also walked away as the Galway fest champ which I stoked about not only because it is a hard event to win but because with the passing of local hero Dave Higgins it means so much more to me. If ever there was a person to personify this event it would be Dave. Little bit loose at times, often late but absolutely magic when it all comes together.
Galway fest isn’t an event that features the best whitewater but it is the event that to my mind best celebrates what kayaking is about; Good times on the water, not taking things too seriously, meeting new kayakers and making the best of your local rivers.
Cheers for reading and hopefully catch you next year!
Check out the Senders vlog from the weekend: