Its been over a year since I first met Alex Jekette and learned about his dream to organize and host a Festival in the beautiful area of Embrun France where the sky meets the mountains and statistically receives sun 300 days a year making it prime wine country at the foothills of the Alps. Your not going to find a better location for an outdoor sports festival and Alex had turned a vision into a dream with the Outdoor Mix Festival being a huge success for 2016. This year was the 3rd annual Outdoor Mix Festival and I was lucky enough to get a personal invite to the Festival from Alex when I was visiting Germany a few years ago for a tradeshow.
Alex's enthusiasm and passion found its way through a shy and soft spoken exterior, but he obviously had a strong connection with the paddling world and wanted to help me realize my passion by hosting whitewater sup racing and trying to raise awareness for the sport by featuring it at Outdoor Mix. Since whitewater sup is so fresh and new, I found Alex's enthusiasm contagious, and I promised I would come to attend his Festival in the future. One and half years later it became a reality and I am happy to report that it was one of the funnest weekends I have had in a long time at an event.
The weekend started out with a beautiful drive through the mtn’s with Carsten Kurmis from Germany who is also working with Starboard SUP in a similar capacity as I am in the states. Athlete, sales rep, field marketing, and ambassador for the sport. After a quick train ride from Basel to Bad Ragaz in Switzerland Carsten picked me up for the amazing 4 hour drive over the alps and into the Como Lake area of Italy and finally at 11 pm we arrived to Embrun France. This small village in the foothills of the French Rockies is surrounded by snow capped mtn peaks separated by drainage of world class rivers and creeks which drain into a beautiful lake where the town sits with population of nearly 7000. Loic the campground manager for the Festival met us with open arms and immediately got us dialed into our cabin in a completely packed and sold out campground. We would be sharing the cabin with some of to worlds best freetsyle slackliners. We quickly dropped our bags and shoe horned Carstens Sprinter van into a parking spot and headed down to the music venue which was pumping reggae beats at unbelievably loud decibels. There would be no sleeping within a mile of this place and so we joined the party. Until almost 2am when the music finally wrapped up and followed the stampede of campers back to the campground which the entrance was basically only 300 feet away from the stage. A good nights rest and some nice little coffees in the morning along with a traditional German home cooked meal of Musili and fruit and we were slathering on the sunscreen and sorting gear for the first day of competition.
The first competition was the SUP Sprint downriver race from approx. 7 km's upstream down the river to the lake with a small portage at the end which had you sprinting up a hill with board in hand to the lake where a 3 or minute flatwater paddle to the main stage of the Festival where the finish line had been placed. This was the perfect section for anyone new to sup but still had some challenging class 2 rapids. The rain the week before had the river level at an optimal flow of of around 200 CMS or approx. 2000 cfs.
Plenty deep and easy flowy channels created challenging eddy lines and with the 3 buoys on the course it wasn't just a straight sprint to the finish which made it more fun and interesting. Carsten had the 12.6 Touring Deluxe inflatable (rules stated inflatables only 12.6 and under) so I knew I had the right gear. I have never run this section of river so I went into it a bit blind but was assured by the race director Nicolas Fayol that there were no surprises or tricky parts outside of the buoys. there were 3 heats of 5 or 6 competitors that beach started 3 minutes apart.
I qualified for the first and fastest heat of paddlers (determined by placings in other large International WW sup races from 2015) so it would be a battle with me, Kai (German flatwater phenom), and Nicholas Fayol from France. The camaraderie at the start between the paddlers from 4 different countries had took the edge off of the competition and made it about encouragement and FUN. The race was for time and I was lucky enough to have the run I visualized. I managed to edge out Nicolas by a mere 8 seconds with Kai coming in not far behind him.
Immediately after the race we decided it would be fun to gather a group and go up into the mtn's a bit higher for a more technical class 3 section and to paddle with a nice diverse group. Nicholas took up to some creeky style class 3 on the Upper Gil river where we had 7 experienced paddlers all together sharing the stoke and different techniques in a classic alpine style creek through some challenging rapids with technical moves. We had an international group from 5 different countries and we all had a great time sharing ideas, lines on the river, and some different techniques in technical river running sup.
Once we arrived back to camp and got a tasty meal provided by the Outdoor Mix fest we put our party hats back on for the Techno themed evening with stellar shows blasting into the early am hours of day 2. Finally got to the cabin for some much needed sleep at 2:30 am!
Day 2 featured a pair of flatwater races as a part of the Alpine Lakes Tour on the small lake that sat as the center piece for the Festival. The wind was picking up and when you see kites and sailboards hitting the beach you know there is going to be some wind. The organizers of the Alpine Lakes Tour setup a matrix of buoys that would take a little memorization to get the course right. 8 turns around buoys would make up one lap with a nicely placed downwind run to the beach for a short run back onto the course for the second lap. The first race was approximately 5 km's for 2 laps. The beach start had about 25 competitors lined up and ready for the start. Carsten and I got of to a great start as # 1 and 2 to the first buoy on our 14x23 Starboard Allstars. The side chop was significant but the boards ate it for lunch. I felt a surge of energy and was able to lead the field around the first lap after passing Carsten for the lead.
I had drafters so I knew a smart last lap with a big effort downwind would be needed for the win. Unfortunately the brain was not firing as well as the paddling strokes and I started to go the wrong way on the second lap DUH Dan DUH. This resulted in me losing my position and having to paddle back to the correct buoy turn. Luckily for me 2nd and 3rd place paddler followed me so I still the fastest guys behind me. Once I realized my mistake and started to back track I felt another big surge of motivation and energy so after another 2 turns in second place I was able to power the longest crosswind section of the race and reclaim the lead. I still had a some drafters so I was strategic to make a few quick last buoy turns and get and get the win by a few board lengths. Race number 2 would start in 2 hours so we powered up with some food and a beer in true European style before the start of the race.
The wind had picked up significantly and it was cool to see the kiters throwing huge airs which the slack liners competed in their qualifying rounds all right there on the beach it was such a cool central location for all of the different sports. Spectators with kids, dogs, beers, and smokes were everywhere and it was a scene that something for everyone and everyone had an updated realtime O.G. status update meaning lots of SMILES! Race 2 would be a short 15 minute or so sprint so I knew that a critical error like I made in the first race would not be good. I got a terrible start and found my self in 5th place but once I got into my rhythm I was able to take the lead and then stretch it out on the final leg going straight downwind for 1km to the finish. The Allstar was feeling really confident and slippery now that I got feeling for it and with a strong finish I was able to take another win for the overall flatwater race title at the event. We all celebrated got a few group selfies and proceeded straight to bar for some ice cold Bière's.
This night would be the big party with over 10K people coming to see the shows. It was a crazy scene with an epic slightly moshy pit and the crowd surging 30 feet from one direction to the next. The music was really fun and featured more of a rock and roll theme with guitars, horns, and bass beats which would stay in your head until the morning. I made it till the end and finally my head hit the pillow at 3am! As I faded to black my thoughts had me excited for the next day of racing in the Whitewater SUP Cross which would decide the overall ww sup champ. I passed out and before I knew it just 5 hours later I was up and feeling great. I shared a pot of coffee with my cabin mates from Estonia, Colorado, Germany, Spain, and Argentina and we all had shared stories of the party the night before. More importantly how we each liked to prepare for the final day of our respective competitions. This was an awesome group dynamic and is one of the reasons that the Outdoor Mix Festival had a profound affect on my stoke for the final day of racing Whitewater SupCross.
Luckily the sup cross didn't start until 12:30 because I was still shaking the bass beats out of my head from the long party night and early morning shenanigans and happened right in the area around the infamous Rabioux Wave which Alex Jakette and the local kayaking community were able to somehow rebuild after floods washed it away nearly 10 years ago. The kayakers were out practicing their Blunts, Airscrews, and Backstabs for competition (no these are not drugs or sex position's, but the names of kayaking freestyle wave moves, ha). During this time we got a few practice runs on the course which had a few very technical upstream buoy turns amidst the heavily flowing Durance river which has been spiked by warm weather and lots of snow in the surrounding mountains making for some cold swift currents and big waves and holes. The sun was shining and the bass was pumping out of the satellite stage the organizers had set by the river competition area. Heat number one went well for me, and I was able to get a great start and hold it for the entire run.
The last move was really tricky and required a strong feeling for the rapids and required an offside eddy turn into a strong jet of current with a peel out to must make ferry above a powerful wave in order to directly make it to the final buoy. If you missed this move there would be no way to hit the last buoy without having to scramble back upstream along the rocky shoreline. This put me straight into the final and I knew I would have to hit this same line to get the win in the final so I took few moments to catch my breath and visualize this same move for the final. At the start of the final I took a completely different position at the beach which had my competition scratching their heads. I choose the most downstream position for a more direct line with less bumping and the chance of not getting to the buoy first, but I knew my game downstream could make up for a bad start so I tried a different strategy and it worked out in my favor as was able to get to the first turn buy in the lead but not by much as the Frenchman was and were bumping and grinding around the buoy so as soon as I hit the downstream current I choked up on the paddle and got 10 or 20 rapid fire strokes in which gave me a few board lengths of breathing room. The extra width let me dig hard and be stable when going sideways through the whitewater. Coming into the crux section of the course where the most technical section would require some serious focus I took a few moments to focus on my breathing and my stance on my board to be wide and low. My training and paddling would allow me to not overthink the paddle strokes but let them come naturally. Its the breathing and foot work that I have been focussing on for racing whitewater this year.
My line was tight and fast and I had the strongest run through this section of the course on this final run. I had to wait a few seconds for the others to pass before going out of the eddy. In SUP cross you have to be careful and watchful that one of the following competitors doesn't try to take you out unknowingly and blow your chance to win, but everyone was focussed on their line through the drop and I found a good gap to make my move across the raging waters of the river Durance to hit the final gate touch direct and fast.
I had the win by several seconds and the remaining paddlers would scramble from below for the next 2 spots on the podium which went to France and Germany respectively. Once the races had concluded we grabbed a few beers and went to the Slackline finals where we cheered on our favorite “slackers” in an amazing show of flip tricks and cheers as the young local unsponsored Frenchman stuck a double flip to take gold. The crowd went wild the champ was vaulted onto the shoulders of his countryman and carried to lake edge where they heaved him into the frosty waters in a celebration that had every person smiling and laughing and that is what its all about. I can honestly say that the 2016 Outdoor Mix Festival was the most fun I have had at an event in several years and the big take away was the unbelievably positive attitude of everyone I met and all of the new friends I made.
Big huge shout out to Starboard Germany the APM Team and Carsten Kurmis for ground support, boards, and morning Muesli!
Thanks to @star-board-sup.com, my family, and everyone that supports me in my quest to #dreamitsupit
Special thanks to Franck Debaecker
Richard Bord Photography
Alban Pernet Photographiste
Alex Jakette, Loic, Marie Jo, and his team ODMF Team!
Nicolas Fayol for organizing the SUP Racing and being a fast badass racer himself!
May 30, 2016