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News

Jul 29, 2015

Red Bull X-Alps 2015: Athletes complete world’s toughest adventure race

They climbed the equivalent of Everest four times, battled headwinds and a heat wave and hiked and flew 2,000km to cross the Alps.

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

A lowdown on Red Bull X-Alps 2015.

Making the landing float in Monaco bay is a special moment for any athlete who manages to make goal in the Red Bull X-Alps. But for one competitor in 2015, it was particularly special – Honza Rejmanek (USA1). In eight years of taking part in the race, he had never once completed the epic journey in full, despite coming third in 2009.

On arrival at the last Turnpoint of Peille, looking close to exhaustion having hiked through the night, an emotional Rejmanek said: “It’s awesome. It’s surreal. It’s amazing to be here finally. This is more important to me than the podium. Here we finally get to finish the race.”

Paul Guschlbauer (AUT1) takes off in Annecy, France. © zooom/Harald Tauderer
Paul Guschlbauer (AUT1) takes off in Annecy, France. © zooom/Harald Tauderer

It was 11 days and 17 hours since he’d set off from Mozartplatz, Salzburg on what would become an extraordinary journey for him – and the 31 other athletes from 18 countries also taking part. They battled through rain, fierce headwinds, turbulent conditions and baking hot temperatures – and for the athlete Dave Turner, a swarm of attacking bees.

On average athletes hiked 500km, climbed the equivalent of Mt Everest four times and flew almost 1,400km. “It’s been a wild ride,” Rejmanek added. “It’s been the most intense, fast-paced Red Bull X-Alps I’ve ever known.”

The 2015 Red Bull X-Alps was not the fastest on record – that was 2013 when Maurer reached goal in 6d 23h 40m – but more athletes made Monaco than in any previous race, and it was almost certainly the most exciting.

For the first time in many years, there was a real battle for podium. Time and again Maurer tried to pull ahead only to have challengers like Paul Guschlbauer (AUT1) and Sebastian Huber (GER3) reel him back in. Even as far as Annecy it looked as though Guschlbauer could challenge Maurer for the lead, something unthinkable in previous years.

Chrigel Maurer (SUI1) wins Red Bull X-Alps 2015. © zooom/Harald Tauderer
Chrigel Maurer (SUI1) wins Red Bull X-Alps 2015. © zooom/Harald Tauderer

In fact, on the first day Maurer made a rare mistake on the way to the Dachstein, Turnpoint 2, and was overtaken by much of the race field. Although he recovered quickly, it was clear that Maurer could not afford to make mistakes in this race, unlike in previous years. In 2011 for example, he won the race with a two-day margin, despite serving a 24h time penalty.

“Chrigel Maurer (SUI1) previously won three times in a row, and each time he won by a big margin – setting up a clear lead between him and the others,” said Race Director Christoph Weber. “This time, he couldn’t do that.”

Weber believes Huber is the real star of this year’s race. Huber came 2nd overall and won the Mazda Rookie Trophy, as the highest ranked athlete competing for the first time. Weber added: “He’s so young, and yet he flies so well. He was always a runner, so we know that part is strong. I daren’t even think what he will be capable of in two years.”

In many ways the story of the 2015 edition, is the story of all the other athletes who took part and their professionalism, endurance fitness and flying prowess.

Sebastian Huber (GER3) during the Powertraveller Prologue. ©zooom/Markus Berger
Sebastian Huber (GER3) during the Powertraveller Prologue. ©zooom/Markus Berger

Adventurer Nick Neynens (NZL) for example fought his way back from last place and the risk of elimination to the top ten with an heroic ‘tiger line’ flight across the Swiss mountains, busting through a col at almost 4,000m to cover 170km in the air.

“People talk about home advantage,” he said, “but coming from elsewhere means that you see the adventure with fresh eyes.”

Gavin McClurg (USA2), made history by becoming the first American to reach Monaco, proving that talented non-Europeans were no longer at a disadvantage. He made his presence known right at the beginning during the Powertraveller Prologue by coming third.

“Having never competed I didn’t know how I would compare to the other athletes, so to know I could go head to head with the best was a huge boost.”

Nick Neynens (NZL) ©zooom/Kelvin Trautman
Nick Neynens (NZL) ©zooom/Kelvin Trautman

During the main race he was with the front-runners until Turnpoint 3, fell back to 20th place and then made an incredible comeback to the top 10 on Day 8. He finished the race by hiking the last 100km through the night to finish eighth overall.

“The last 100km were brutal, my feet were in so much pain, but the race was amazing. It was so much fun,” he said.

2015 was also the year that saw women take part in the Red Bull X-Alps for the first time in a decade. Yvonne Dathe (GER2) was eliminated early after a tactical error not to pull a Led Lenser Night Pass. It allows athletes to break the mandatory rest period from 22:30 until 05:00, during which athletes are normally not permitted to move.

Honza Rejmanek (USA1) ©zooom/Kelvin Trautman
Honza Rejmanek (USA1) ©zooom/Kelvin Trautman

But Dawn Westrum (USA3) excelled, surpassing her own and others’ expectations in reaching the Matterhorn, Turnpoint 7. During one two-day period, she hiked 115km to stay in the game.

“She’s proved that she can hike hard, make intelligent decisions in the air and that women are really strong in this race,” added race director Christoph Weber.

Westrum was elated with her performance. On the last day she flew high above the Aletsch glacier, the longest in Europe, and one of the most stunning areas of the Alps. “It was so beautiful and I just hung out there, cruising along. It was the perfect ending to a great race.”

The Red Bull X-Alps takes a punishing toll on the body. Sleep deprivation, blisters from hiking and sun-burn are some of the more manageable hazards athletes had to deal with. Two athletes sadly had to retire from the race with more serious injuries. Tom de Dorlodot (BEL) injured his ankle after a launch went wrong while fan favorite Toma Coconea (ROU) broke his arm badly after a gust of wind dragged him off his feet after a landing.

Says Race Mastermind Hannes Arch: “I have the biggest respect for the athletes’ ability to act responsibly in extreme conditions. What they achieved is incredible. Despite the fast times, conditions were really tough this year. It shows just how professional the athletes are.”

Rejmanek helps explain the psychological state athletes get into during the race. It’s a state of ‘hyper focus’, he says.

“By days seven to nine you’re in quite a primal state; swopping between euphoria and frustration in equal measure. It’s the perfect game,” he adds. “You can’t brute force your way through. You have to think your way through.”

But the appeal he says is huge. “In some ways it’s the ultimate vacation, albeit a masochistic one, away from life’s distractions, where you just have two things to focus on – hiking and flying. You’re also flying through the most spectacular mountains!”

Gaspard Petiot (FRA4) ©zooom/Sebastian Marko
Gaspard Petiot (FRA4) ©zooom/Sebastian Marko

The end of the race was characterized by a gripping fight for third place between Guschlbauer, Gaspard Petiot (FRA4), Antoine Girard (FRA2) and Aaron Durogati (ITA). Guschlbauer had earlier made a bad route decision south of Annecy in a last bid effort to catch Maurer. He was caught by strong winds that made flying impossible. His fans and supporters then watched Red Bull Mobile Live Tracking in horror and frustration as he was overtaken first by Huber and then Durogati, Petiot and Girard drew level.

Herculean efforts from all saw them arrive literally within minutes of each other. Guschlbauer landed above the Turnpoint, his glider snagging in bushes. Stuffing it into his bag with the help of fans he ran down the hill to Peille to take third – with just half an hour to spare.

The excitement didn’t stop there. Just as Petiot arrived, exhausted after hiking the last kilometers, Girard literally swooped in overhead, arriving just minutes ahead of him. Durogati eventually hiked in an hour later for sixth place.

The race officially ended at midday July 17. Of the 32 athletes who started, a record 19 made goal, three were left in the race, five were eliminated and five withdrew. Maurer’s winning time was 8d 4h 37m.

For Rejmanek, on his fifth Red Bull X-Alps, his time or ranking was not the important point but making the magical waters off the Mediterranean sea after crossing the Alps from Salzburg to Monaco. “It was really powerful to wrap this chapter and say: Mission accomplished!”

From press release

Feature Image: A Red Bull X-Alps athlete flying over Zermatt, Switzerland. ©zooom/Felix Wölk

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Events

Jul 10, 2018

The 2018 Whitewater Awards: Nouria Newman and Benny Marr take the spoils.

The Whitewater Awards is a gathering of the world’s best kayakers to show off the biggest and best things that have happened in the sport over the past year.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

 To be considered for an award, athletes, photographers, and filmmakers submit media taken over the past year that they believe showcases the best progression in the sport.  

There are sixteen different categories for submission, including separate male and female categories within the “Best of” kayaking categories. Categories include Photographer of the Year, Film of the Year, Expedition of the Year, Best Trick, Best Line, River Stewardship, Grom of the Year, Rider of the Year, along with several others.  Awards are decided upon by a voting process done by the Association of Whitewater Professionals.

This year’s Whitewater Awards was held in the Egyptian Theater in downtown Boise, Idaho. It was hosted on June 14th, the same weekend as the North Fork Championships, which takes place on the North Fork of the Payette River just outside of Boise.  The North Fork Championship is regarded as one of the hardest kayaking races in the world.

The race takes place on Jacob’s Ladder rapid, which is a rapid so difficult and consequential that most kayakers feel accomplished simply by surviving the rapid, much less racing the rapid. Nouria Newman, a 3-time NFC racer and winner of this year’s Whitewater Awards Female Rider of the Year describes it well,

“The NFC is the hardest race in whitewater kayaking. [Jacob’s Ladder] is a scary, consequential rapid. Running it is challenging, and it only gets harder to race it and make the gates.”

In order to minimize the risk involved in the race, event organizers have developed a strict qualification process for racers. 30 racers will qualify to race Jacob’s Ladder. Ten of them are pre-qualified from placing top ten at the event the year before. Those ten then read numerous athlete applications and vote on the next ten racers who will join them.  The last ten racers are decided through a qualification race on S-Turn rapid, another one of the North Fork’s infamous class V rapids.

Every year on this same weekend in June, kayakers, photographers, and filmmakers from around the world flock to Idaho to celebrate quality whitewater, progression of the sport, and the community that surrounds it. Both the North Fork Championship and the Whitewater Awards had great turnouts of athletes and spectators this year.

John Webster

The finalists of each category in the Whitewater Awards were presented in film format at the Egyptian Theater for the entire audience to view, with the winner being announced live. Winners were presented with an award and expected to give a short speech at the event. The big winners of the night were Nouria Newman and Benny Marr, who were awarded with Line of the Year and Rider of the Year in the female and male categories. Nouria says that voting for the “best” in each category is a challenging process, “…voting is always tricky, (look at both French and U.S. presidents, not too sure if they are really the best available option). And it is also very hard to compare lines and rapids. What’s bigger? What’s harder? I got voted Best Line of the Year with a good line down Parque Jurassic, a long technical rapid, but Rata’s line down Graceland, which is a huge slide, was equally as good, if not better.”

No matter how tricky the voting process can be, Nouria agrees that the Whitewater Awards plays a large role in the progression of the sport, “I think it’s super cool to see what people can do in their kayak, how they push the limit of the sport and how they open new possibilities.”

For more information about the Whitewater Awards, you can visit whitewaterawards.com, you can also follow them on Facebook and on Instagram.

You can follow Nouria on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

You can follow Benny on Facebook and Instagram.

Cover photo courtesy of Ari Walker

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