TIRUVANANTHAPURAM : Let’s be honest: Extreme kayaking is a gruelling sport. A single error can result in serious consequences—especially when ‘a day in the office’ means deadly rapids and giant waterfalls. However, when done right, there is no greater rush than facing a churning river’s wrath, charting a course to weave between massive boulders, and conquering its hair-raising currents. Such is the allure of whitewater.
Touted to be Asia’s largest extreme kayaking event, Malabar River Festival promises much more than just a $20,000 prize pool. As rivers like Kuttiyadi, Chalipuzha, and Iruvanjhipuza, descending from the Deccan plateau feature granite beds, boulder gardens, slides, and some waterfalls, Kerala is now considered a ‘creeking paradise’. Organisers, Jacopo Nordera and Manik Taneja, have tied up with Kerala Tourism as they expect over 150 participants (including Olympians) from all over the world to paddle their way to Thusharagiri in Kozhikode.
In addition to categories like freestyle, giant slalom, and downriver time trails (at both the professional and intermediate levels), the global participation at the sixth edition of this event has led to organisers upping the ante by establishing the first-ever Malabar World Kayaking Championship. So it’s no surprise that the festival has attracted some of the biggest names in extreme kayaking—including Red Bull athlete and current world champion, Nouria Newman.
In rapid succession
Until last year, this 26-year-old, who hails from a sleepy Alpine town in southeast France called Chambéry, used to compete in styles like canoeing, freestyle, and extreme kayaking. In fact, she excelled in them. She has podium finishes for world titles at Steep Creek (2017), Sickline (2016); the list goes on. “Last year, I officially retired from canoe slalom. I left my training routine aside to focus more on extreme kayaking trips,” explains Nouria, who has just returnedfrom a big wave surfing expedition in Eastern Canada after completing two savage first descents in Wyoming (USA).
The young Frenchwoman is currently pursuing a masters in Journalism and Political Science from Sciences Po Toulouse. She believes that journalism is actually very similar to kayaking—as one always has to adapt! “In whitewater kayaking, everything is constantly changing and everyone has to adjust, find their own way, and choose their own lines. There is never just one way to make a move or run a river,” she states, elaborating, “That’s why there are so many different styles in the sport and subsequently numerous voices and many good stories.”
One such unique voice belongs to freestyle expert Dane Jackson, who is practically whitewater royalty. Despite being the son of legendary Olympian paddler, Eric Jackson, this Red Bull athlete from USA and three-time world champion has never let his family name overshadow him. He has battled volatile waters ranging from Pakistan’s Rondu Gorge to Uganda’s White Nile. This month, after participating at the Malabar River Festival, the American will attempt to become the first person ever to kayak down Chhattisgarh’s Chitrakoot Waterfalls, which is nearly 100 ft tall.
The 25-year-old is also very passionate about cleaning rivers across the planet and fighting river pollution (as seen by his recent cleaning activities in Nolichucky River, Tennessee). He has a few ideas on how India, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, could combat this man-made problem. “I think it’s about more access to proper dumpsters and recycling for starters, but awareness towards the consequences of the trash in the rivers is a big thing too.” From July 18 to 22 at Kozhikode.
Kayaking for dummies
Four-time French National winner and current world numero uno Nouria’s paddling tips for beginners.
Find a few friends to go kayaking with. Together you will be stronger. You’re alone in your kayak but it’s a team sport.
It takes more than just kayaking to be a good kayaker: be smart, physically ready, and watch out for your friend.
Make sure you set good safety standards.
Always question yourself. Figure out if you are doing it right, or if you could do it better.
Learn the lingo
If you’re headed to Thusharagiri this week, spruce up your paddle-speak before hitting the froth.
Booty: Penalty for exiting the kayak; usually involves drinking beer out of one’s own boots.
Syphon: Rocks or other dangerous obstructions that the river flows through.
Chasing rain: The act of checking water levels in a river after rainfall.
Stout: Variation in river elevations or massive drops like whitewater cascades.
Beater: A kayaker who’s getting thrashed by the whitewater rapids.