Peak UK As River Festival July 2009


Since Adrian couldn’t make it up to the Highveld for the Peak UK As River Festival, I (Luke Longridge) volunteered to write this guest article, since I was lucky enough to go.

It’s been a while since we had any organised kayaking activity on the As River; I think the last event that I remember was the “Cold Water Classic” back in 2002. So it was high time for another event on this classic winter run, and when Hugh du Preez called me in May to find out if I’d be keen for a festival, I said I definitely would! I specifically requested that he hold the festival on the first or last weekend in July, as I was going to be between Namibia and the Czech Republic in June and mid-July, and in the end the date was set for the 25th and 26th of July. Unfortunately I had booked my return flight from Prague to get back at 22h00 on Friday the 24th of July, so I got home and packed my stuff, and then crashed for a few hours before getting up at 4h30. I picked up Natalie (who was coming along to take photos) at 5h00 and then we drove the 300-odd km to Bethlehem, where we stopped at the Wimpy for breakfast (the only Wimpy I ever eat at, as I usually despise their food). Here we bumped into Neil O’Leary and Chris Barichievy, who had also left from Jo’burg that morning. It was freezing cold, and the weather reports had predicted a maximum of around 8˚ C for that day. We were not looking forward to getting wet in that sort of weather.


Philip bring round a spin. (ADRIAN> Please note: Luke chose all the captions for me to put in too....)


Luke on the wave.


Hugh going for a point.


Neil cruising on the wave.


Chris and Hannes waiting for the freestyle to finish, so that they can go and eat lamb.


Cows are the only real wildlife around here.


Following breakfast we called Hugh to find out where to meet, and were told to drive down to the slalom course below the weir on the middle section. When we got there no-one was around, and everything was frozen, but soon the rest of the competitors arrived. Obviously the prediction of cold weather had kept most people at home because we had a grand total of 11 kayakers. We had been told that we were going to have the freestyle competition first, but no-one could see any suitable wave on the chosen rapid, as the river was quite low, and it was still way too cold to attempt any sort of freestyle kayaking without risking hypothermia anyway. We took a look at the killer weir where a foam pillar was getting recycled. That foam pillar comes from Adam Gray’s Flirt. He foolishly decided to run this weir a few months ago, got beaten within inches of his life, and had to be roped out and resuscitated. He’s luck to be alive. His pillar has been there for months and I expect it will be there for a while still. Don’t run this weir! I know Kennedy runs it, but I think he is mad to risk death on this monster.


Shane making the first gate in the extreme slalom.


Shane lining up the second gate on Bridge rapid in the only clean run of the day. (ADRIAN> No kidding, that's an evil eddy to be playing in...)


Luke preparing himself for the final slide on bridge.


John on the way down the slide.


Everd on the slide.


Chris emerging from the freezing water. This was his first ever run of Bridge rapid. (ADRIAN> I think you guys need to come and paddle in the Cape for some cold conditions too.... Although I do spot short sleeves here, ouch!)


Quinton attempting the first gate. Just catching that eddy is quite a feat.


After a bit of discussion it was decided to head up to Alles to have the head-to-head race, which seemed like a much better idea given the weather. When we arrived, all the competitors took a look at the rapid, and we came up with a route. Unlike most head-to-head races I’ve competed in, this was not to be a direct down river course. It was decided that all competitors should catch the top left eddy first, and had to touch the tree here. This was followed by a ferry to river right to catch the opposite eddy, where one had to touch the bank. Competitors were then to continue down to an eddy on the left, touch a barrel placed in the water, and then continue downstream, touching a large rock on the left. The finish was in line with the big willow tree on the left.

We were divided into groups of four for the heats. First up were Chris Barichievy, Philip Claassens, Hannes Pienaar and John Leyland. In the first eddy Chris caught an edge (he was the only fool paddling a play boat) and whacked his head on the shallow rocks downstream of the first chute, before taking a swim. Hannes cruised ahead to win this heat. Next up was Neil O’Leary, Everd Vermeulen, Adrian Vroom, and Quinton Marcus. Everd cruised ahead in his Necky Blunt (which is a very quick boat) and easily won the heat. So that left me, Shane Raw and Hugh du Preez for the final heat. Hugh and Shane are tough competitors, and I was a little nervous. Luckily, the eddy-hopping format of the race meant that everyone was more focused on finding a good line than on abusing adjacent paddlers, and it was a pleasant race, with Shane easily cruising to victory.

Next, the winners of each heat went through to a second heat, in addition to the four non-winning paddlers with the fastest times, regardless of heat, with the addition of Bruce Campbell, who had arrived late. This made for another two runs of four paddlers each. Most of us were not aware that this had been agreed on at the beginning, but were all keen to maximize our paddling time anyway. The whole format of the evnt was described as “children on a playground making up the rules as they go along” by Natalie, but no-one seemed to have a problem with this, as it worked out rather better than rigid rules might have. So in heat 2A was Adrian Vroom, John Leyland, Everd Vermeulen and Bruce Campbell. To everyone’s surprise, Vroom took the heat with an easy win, and Everd came last. The technical nature of the course made the line chosen far more important than overall power, and made for an interesting competition. Heat 2B comprised Shane Raw, Quinton Marcus, Hannes Pienaar and Everd Vermeulen. Don’t ask me how Everd made it into this heat, since he was in the last heat as well, but he did. Making up the rules as we go along, that’s just how we roll! Included in heat 2C were me, Neil O’Leary, Philip Claassens, and Hugh du Preez. I had a really good line at the top, and was well in the lead, when I hit some funny slow water just above the 3rd eddy, and Philip managed to pip me. Fortunately, I made it into the final, along with Shane, Quinton, Philip and Everd. So there were now five in the proverbial bed, and when the race start was said, I found myself ahead. By now I had figured that the crux of the race was the ferry between the first and second eddies, and I made sure to nail this, coming out of the second eddy with a decent lead over Shane. He was closing the gap rapidly though, and I was just ahead of him at the third eddy, where like a true gentleman, he opted out of screwing me in the eddy as Philip had done, and I took the final! Needless to say I was pretty darn chuffed, it’s not often one gets to beat Shane in a kayak race!


Hannes blasting past the second gate.


Shane lining up the drop above the second gate.


Hugh lining up for the second eddy. I think it ate him this time. (ADRIAN> uh oh...)


Everd in the maelstrom near the second gate.


Shane Raw showing everyone the course. Yes, that is a brand new Riot still in its wrapping. He took it off for the racing.


Philip and Hannes battling it out in the first round.


Chris swimming in the first round. Did anyone say Bootie Beer? (ADRIAN> Yes, probably Philip....)


Everd easily winning his first heat (ADRIAN> Well done dude!!!!)


Shane winning his first heat. (ADRIAN> This would be expected...)


Vroom leading the pack in the second run. The rest of the kayakers are clustered around the third eddy (see the barrel tied to the side?)


After the racing, we all retired for some lunch, and then it was time for the freestyle. It had warmed up considerably; the weather report had obviously been wrong. It was a lovely sunny, windless winter day. There was the little problem of where to hold the competition, as the best freestyle spot is much further downstream on a different section.  In the end we decided to try holding it on the top wave of Alles. This is actually a very fast, flushy wave, with minimal freestyle potential, and after a heat consisting of 3 rides each (with Shane judging), most people had scored nothing, with the rest having scored one (yes 1) point each. Thus those with a point went through to the final (me, Hugh, Vroom, Philip, Neil, and Quinton). This is where the tricky nature of the wave became a problem, as everyone managed to score exactly one point again (a single flat spin each) with no clear winner. So, in the rule-changing, maker-upper spirit of the festival, we decided to have a 10 minute open session for all the finalists, with the best ride winning. In the end it was Philip who scored two whole points (a flat spin and a blunt/roundhouse, I think) and won it. By this stage it was getting rather cold again and we were all glad to see the end of the freestyle, and head up to Cameron McIntosh’s farm, where a massive lamb spit was waiting, as well as the rugby and plenty of booze. First however, Chris and John (who both had swims, although I missed John’s) had to drink Bootie Beers, and took them with as much grace as is possible when skulling a beer from a gross, manky bootie.


Shane in the lead in the second round.


And sending it to the finish.


Quinton on the final drop of Alles.


The next morning’s activities were to involve an ‘Extreme Slalom’ down Bridge Rapid. Cameron and Hugh put up some gates, and they were in the places one usually avoids when running this rapid. All were upstream gates, and the first gate was an above the eddy on the right, immediately at the start of the rapid. This looked tough but feasible. The second gate was above the very meaty eddy half way down, on river right. This eddy is a ‘Bad Place’ and is usually avoided when running the rapid. The final gate was in the big eddy on the right at the bottom of the rapid, and was the only one which it seemed everyone could make. First up was Shane, who volunteered to show us how it should be done. And indeed he did, having a perfect line down the course! Alas, it was the only clean line down the course we were to see that day. I made an attempt and failed at the first gate, consequently missing the second one, whilst realizing just how ridiculous this slalom course really was. Most competitors opted out of attempting any gates, and chose to go for the fasted direct line down the rapid. After my scary first run, I also chickened out and chose this option. In the end, only Hugh, Philip and Shane attempted the course. Shane never completed the course properly again, but his perfect first run was enough to secure a win. Hugh attempted the course numerous times, and came pretty close, but never actually made it through the course. Philip was looking severely hung over after the excesses of Saturday night, but was nonetheless brave enough to go for the course. He made the first gate, but the ‘Bad Place’ eddy gave him a talking to, and told him twice in fact. He eventually made it out, and emerged at the bottom of the rapid looking quite pale, and then promply began to retch. Luckily making the first gate was enough to secure second place. There was some other good carnage; Hugh attempted the slide upside down, and there were a couple of swimmers, but everyone emerged mostly unscathed. Around lunch time we all packed up and headed home.


Philip taking Luke on the third eddy.


Hugh on the last drop of Alles.


Luke leading Shane in the final (ADRIAN> Well done Luke!!! Not as easy man to beat...)


Luke mid-spin on the top wave of Alles.


Neil surfing.


The overall results (combining all three events according to some magical, mysterious formula) are:


Philip Claassens

Shane Raw

Luke Longridge

Hannes Pienaar

Neil O’Leary

Everd Vermeulen

Quinton Marcus

Adrian Vroom

Hugh du Preez

John Leyland

Chris Barichievy

Bruce Campbell


Well done everyone!


All in all, it was an awesome weekend! The flexible school-playground approach made for some interesting events and good times. Bring on As Fest 2010!




Thanks very much to Peak UK and Whitewater Training for sponsoring the event, Hugh du Preez and Aimee Leigh Stewart from Whitewater Training for putting the whole thing together, to Cameron McIntosh for helping out with everything, arranging the amazing spit braai and for allowing us to use his farm, and to the hardy crew of kayakers who made the festival. And thanks to Natalie Deseta for taking pictures of all the kayaking action.

(ADRIAN> A big thanks to Luke Longridge for writing this article and supplying the website with some very cool photos of the event... Hopefully I'll be able to attend next year, let's see! Keep supporting Luke!!! Shot.)