Story By Emily E.
A few years ago I did some volunteer coaching and raft guiding with a lovely company in Nepal, and in doing so made some lifelong friends. Late last year a couple of the boys had contacted me to say that they were putting a rafting team together. I was super excited to hear about this. They explained to me that they were going to compete in their National Championship in February, the very first of its kind in Nepal. As it happened I had a trip booked to Nepal in February, and lucky enough for me I had booked my trip just at the right time to catch the competition. I knew I wanted to be involved somehow, I didn’t mind what I did to help, it would just be great to be there to watch some raft racing. So I contacted my buddy Bishnu and asked how I could help.
In fact Bishnu came back and asked me if I would come to the Nepal Kayak and Canoe Club camp, where the boys had been in preparation for the competition for two months already, and upon my arrival do a bit of coaching with them. I was honestly so excited, I couldn’t wait! It had been at least 4 years that I had last seen some of the boys, so I was really looking forward to catching up with them. The team is made up of Hari Ale Magar, Roshan Lama, Man Bahadur Kandel, Prakash Gurung, Binod Gurung, Tak Bahadur Gurung and Bishal Gurung. On my previous trip 4 years ago I was working alongside Roshan and Man (Michael). These guys are, strong, funny, and seriously focused and hard working!
It was only in the last week before the competition that I started to realise how important this competition was for rafting and raft racing in Nepal. There were all kinds of preparations happening in the week before. There was a judge’s workshop, a short one day pre event, and countless meetings about running events, mainly concerning time keeping! Official persons from all paddling federations and clubs were involved.
Meanwhile many teams were making their final race preparations in their own camps, along the banks of the Trushuli River. I had already spotted these on my travels along the main route from Pokhara to Kathmandu, and I was looking forward to seeing what preparations were going on in these camps.
I arrived early morning to the closed camp where the NKCC boys were training, and they were casually putting up their own slalom lines, nothing is too much trouble for them!
The only way to reach their camp on the banks of the Marsyangdi, was to cross from the main road by raft to the beach on the other side. To set the scene, the Marsyangdi is a beautiful river, dam controlled and beautiful, clean and a stunning blue at this time of year. However the water is still extremely cold, and makes for chilly showering! The Marsyangdi flows in to the Trushli River by the town of Mugling which is a dusty busy one with so much going on, and if you’re not enjoying your bus ride to Pokhara to Kathmandu, a sign that you’re about half way!!
I had put together a plan for the week based on the competition being at the end of the week, just to help with the boy’s preparation for a competition and tactics rather than any very hard training. They had already prepared themselves, and had trained twice a day for the last 2 months in the boat together, you couldn’t knock their commitment there!
Working from the beach camp we covered sprint and slalom tactics, and touched on interval training techniques. All interspersed of course with dal bhat and afternoon snoozing in the sun!
We also had a morning of downriver training and looking at pacing from higher up on the Marsyangdi to the Trishuli confluence, and I started to see how hard the boys had been working on their fitness and paddling skills.
All in all a perfect week was coming to an end and it was almost time for the competition. This week was knackering, but brilliant, and I like to think that the boys thought the same. They had worked so hard together on the lead up to the competition, that their communication and team work were truly admirable.
A couple of days before the competition we moved camps down to Fishling, where all the other teams had started to arrive for official training and a pre-event friendly one day competition. Fishling is the usual hub for paddling competitions, and is the venue many events throughout the year from free style to boater x style races and kayak and raft guide training camps.
The official training days were full of surprises for me as we met up with the 3 teams from the Nepalese army, who are regulars at sports events including rafting and kayaking events. Led by Rajiv Chand, they had been training for weeks leading up to this event, and they were doing really well. Again I was honored to be asked to do a short flat water coaching session with all teams. This was a real test of my coaching skills, not only because of lack of planning time and new venue, but also language barrier. However I like to think it went well and that everyone learned something. I even cracked a few smiles from the tough army lads, and they didn’t seem to mind being taught by an overly enthusiastic woman in bright yellow zinc sunblock! That is very much a day that will stay with me for ever, I was so proud to be part of their preparation.
So it came to the pre-event, which was more of a test that judges and time keepers could work efficiently together to pull off the first National Championship held under IRF rules. Joe Willie Jones (IRF President) was there to keep them in check and had been preparing all officials on the rules and regulations.
The pre event went without too many hitches, and was the first chance for all teams to see what the competition was like. Speculation about the strongest teams had been flying about all week as to who might be taking the top spot at end of play. That being said there was already signs of the upmost sportsmanship and all teams were cheering each other on as they undertook each event.
The next day saw the competition start in earnest. Rafts of all shapes and sizes were lined up ready to tackle the first event. All 12 teams on the start list were soon ranked into their sprint order and amongst all the stellar performances team NKCC lead the way with the fastest sprint time.
Next round was the head to head, which drew attention from paddlers and spectators alike. There were cheers and shouts of encouragement from all as everyone enjoyed some brilliant battles from the teams. After a bit of video analysis and some team pow wows, team NKCC were lining up for the final, and I could not have been prouder to see them have a spectacular battle to take first place.
Day one of racing concluded with a lunchtime dal bhat and preparation for official downriver inspection.
For me this was the end of my trip and I had to head back to Kathmandu to catch a flight home, although I admit I ran up my phone bill trying to find a replacement flight so I could stay another day and watch the slalom and downriver!
I heard the slalom and downriver went smoothly, and all teams had a great time. The Le Man style downriver start off the river beach was a hit, and from the photos looked like a great way to conclude the competition.
Team NKCC topped the leader table to take the win at the first ever Nepal National Rafting Championship, meaning they would be able to compete at the IRF World Rafting Championships in Japan this coming October. This means the world to me, I can’t believe the friends I made in 2012 while we were working on the rivers have extended into the world of raft racing. I loved being able to impart a small amount of racing knowledge to them leading up to their victory in Fishling, and to top it off I will get to watch them race against the world’s best athletes in Japan.
I must say that in true Nepali fashion the week before the event was either entirely laid back or absolutely manic, but this event also brought home again why I love Nepal and its people. The camaraderie of all teams was fantastic and the support they all gave each other whilst fighting for a single title was brilliant to see. The 12 teams were made up of raft guides, kayakers, police force, and army teams, and I hope those numbers will continue to grow in coming years.
Team NKCC now need as much support as they can in their journey to the IRF World Championships. They have a go-fund-me page set up, and are accepting all donations.
I would like to thank all at NKCC and the Himalayan River Guide Association Nepal for having me for that week, and letting me be part of such an amazing event, hopefully I can go back for the next one! Special mention to Anup and Bishnu for helping put the team together and providing the team with perfect training conditions.
See you in Japan!
Himalayan River Guide Association Nepal’s website