The Wildest Water Meets The World's Best Kayakers

The Whitewater Grand Prix aims to showcase the most outrageous paddling on some seriously unfriendly rivers.

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A GoPro shot of Gerd Serrasolses (Spain).     Photo: Ben Marr

Whitewater competitions aren't—typically—spectator friendly. They’re usually held at locations convenient to pedestrians, meaning relatively flat sections with a few fun waves. Last year’s World Freestyle Championships, for example, were held on a burbling river with hip-high waves. It had about as much verve as a dressage competition.

Enter the Whitewater Grand Prix, happening this week in eastern Canada. The third edition of the two-week long competition has drawn 30 or so of the world’s best all-around kayakers together for a six-stage competition at the peak of the spring runoff, when rivers are at their most explosive. The events are split between dangerous downriver races on flooding waterways, and freestyle competitions on double-overhead breaking waves—all in remote, fearsome, seldom-paddled locations.

“Ninety percent of kayakers wouldn’t touch any of these venues,” says event organizer Patrick Camblin, “but we need spots like this to showcase the best paddling.” Already, four competitors have dropped out with injuries, two kayaks have been destroyed, and one competitor was nearly swept to his death over an un-runnable 70-foot falls.

Camblin’s strategy for the event is similar to mountain biking’s Red Bull Rampage, the high-flying fat-tire spectacle that's produced a handful of jaw-dropping viral videos. At the WWGP, the idea is similar: Film the carnage action, edit it well, and watch the Internet go wild. The big difference is that there’s no prize money. Camblin hopes the event gets enough attention to change that in the future. For now, he and a handful of friends have stuffed themselves into two-bed motel rooms in northern Quebec, chugged Red Bull, and pulled all-nighters to create the media output. All pro-bono. Such is the effort to create the Next Big Thing in whitewater paddling. Check out the full coverage here.

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