We are river family – meet Stan Hájek

A very familiar face to the European Raft Race scene, with a paddling career spanning 53 years, Stan Hájek started paddling as a child, later meeting his girlfriend (now wife) whilst paddling in the Czech Republic and East & West Europe. At the time, sport expeditions were the only way to look outside the Iron Curtain until 1989.  After 1989, raft makers were established in the Czech Republic, his two sons grew up and he exchanged canoes for rafts. In 1991 Stan organised the first downriver raft race on the Kamenice River in CZE.

How did you get rafting started in Czech Republic?
My wife and I had a couple of friends and the rest of the family and started racing in the R4 category under the ICF (ČSK DV) in CZE. In 1995, we joined the Union of Boaters of the Czech Republic, created the first rules, received rafting recognition by the Ministry of Sport and until 2007 I was the first chairman of the rafting board in the Czech Republic. Until 2017 I raced in rafting. Since 2002 I have been an IRF Judge, and in 2003 I was Director of the WRC in Lipno. In 2006 I was the main CEO of ERC in Russia, and in 2012 I worked in WRC JUN senior masters and masters and ERC adults in Lipno .

The rafting magic is in the wild amazing rivers all over the world, exploring new landscapes, new friends, in dangerous situations, the bond of friendship is strengthened. We (rafters) are one of the last natural sports in the world. Although I have been organising rafting on an artificial slalom course in Trnavka river in the Czech Republic for more than 20 years, I do not belong to supporters of the rafting way to the Olympic games and I love the downrivers of wild rivers throughout my boating life.

My most memorable moments are not one only. But in the Year 1988 I first time paddled the Devils Stream in Lipno in a C1. Only a few kayakers and canoeists have come across this stretch in front of us, and I have dreamed of the jumps and rocks every night since.

The second amazing moment I experienced as a spectator and manager of the women’s team WRC 2005 when they first appeared on the edge of the rapids ahead of a 15 km long DR course and won their first  Over All World Championship title.

Funniest moment on the water?
The most amazing moments are when the boat turns into the water and you go out healthy to the shore. Or when I got myself out of the boat and my friends dragged me on board in a moment.

The worst moment was on the river Driva in Norway. 15 km long section of the river we were paddling alone on the raft R4. In the middle of the inaccessible canyon is the rock and the great cylinder (broth) we knew about but did not check it. A classic underestimation of the situation. We fell down, they stayed hanging, the two crew members disappeared under the surface and emerged about a minute on the rock below this place. For about 5 minutes we fought with the partner on the edge before we managed to get out. We had only 2 paddles, we were depressed and 7 km ahead of us in an inaccessible gorge where a son and a friend with a car were waiting for us.

Every sport is an excellent relaxation for a demanding job. And the job of the construction manager is very stressful all over the world. In addition to racing I used my knowledge and helped the representative CZE women’s team Jezinky (of which my wife was a member between 2002 and 2012). At the moment, however, I ended up with demanding work, retired, and filling out the free time with babysitting one or more of the five grandchildren we have. Sporting and managing a mountain lodge I care about. After the end of the rafting presidency in the Czech Republic, I remained in the control committee of the Union.

And finally, tell us why you started the European Cup series:
We agreed on this competition with other European club organisers at one of the competitions in Čunovo, Slovakia. I wrote the rules and we all agreed. It was about promoting us – race organisers, more promotions, helping sponsors and making sure that no one had to travel all year round and can compete cheaply close to their home country.

Stan is one of our River Family. Are You?
#AreYouReady #RaftersAreAwesome #RiverFamily #StrongerTogether #WeAreIRF

We’re looking for more stories of River Family – if you have a story to tell, email Sean with your story and photos.