By: Kalob Grady
UNLEASHEDxUganda was supported by World Class Kayak Academy.
In early January of 2018, 29 athletes from 12 diverse countries converged upon the longest river in the world for UNLEASHEDxUganda. The goal of UNLEASHED has been and will continue be the same: to create a competitive environment where the best white-water athletes in the world can push themselves, and the sport of kayaking, to new levels. This multi-stage event facilitates progression in the sport and uses the biggest whitewater in the world as the platform. Only eight months after an incredibly successful premier event last spring in Quebec, SEND has brought their progressive competition to the banks of the White Nile in Uganda for the second installment.
Five women and 24 men pushed themselves through four rigorous stages on the best waves and biggest rapids of the White Nile from January 5th – 12th. Athletes competed in a Big Trick Freestyle comp on the Cuban Wave in Itanda Falls for Stage 1, presented by Jackson Kayak. This first stage set the mood for the week with 6 swims, a few glorious crashes and some monstrous tricks. Competitors moved upstream to the infamous Dead Dutchman rapid for Stage 2–a boaterX through a rapid that is rarely run, let alone raced– presented by World Class Academy. This prestigious, intertwined collection of exploding whitewater channels instilled fear into athletes as they lined up at the start line of this race. Athletes enjoyed a more relaxed atmosphere during Stage 3, presented by Kokatat. Stage 3 was centered around the perfect Nile Special wave for a best ride competition. This stage was focused on style, air and fluidity, showing off the best of big wave surfing. The fourth and final stage, presented by Dewerstone and Jackson Kayak, was designed to promote chaos and madness as all 29 athletes geared up for a mass start style race through the Hair of the Dog. This final stage was unpredictable and opened up the possibility for huge shake-ups in the overall standings.
Recently crowned ICF World Champion Quim Fontane (CAT) took the first ride of the day and instantly threw an airscrew that turned the competition up a notch. Heat 1 stepped up to Quim’s challenge and freestyle heavy hitters Dane Jackson (USA), Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA), Andrey Pesterov, (RUS) and Aiofe Hanrahan (IRE) began to raise the bar as they all made incredible use of their time on the water. Highlights from the first heat included 17-year-old Junior ICF World Champion Tom Dolle (FRA) showing absolutely no fear and charging through the thick of Itanda Falls to surf the Cuban. In addition to Tom Dolle (FRA) crushing, Tom Dunhpy (IRE) laid it out with a massive back-pan am and Adrian Mattern (GER) claimed it for the crowd after having his helmet snatched off his head after a hefty helix.
Heat 2 featured a brilliant international cast who were prepared to match and surpass the bar set by heat 1. Bren Orton (UK), Darby McAdams (USA), Raoul Collentour (NED), and Kalob Grady (CAN) sent it ride after ride, trying to match the high level of tricks put forth by Quim Fontana (CAT) and Dane Jackson (USA). Highlights of heat 2 included Amina Nakirya (UGA) fighting her way back to the wave after a savage swim early in the heat. In addition to Anima’s honey badger effort, heat 2 encompassed Bartosz Czaudera (POL) shredding every ride, 14-year-old Kaelin Friedenson (USA) displaying that he belongs in this competition and Sadat Kawawa (UGA) putting on a show for the entirety of the local crowd.
The safety challenges of holding an event on a rapid as extensive as the Dead Dutchman were not overlooked. The severity of the situation that would unfold if an athlete became separated from their boat was the organizers biggest fear, and the safety plan reflected this anxiety. Athletes in the race were the premier level of safety as they would be the closest to an athlete in trouble, with secondary safety teams set in high traffic positions. The breakdown of the format used for the Dead Dutchman BoaterX was as follows: 20 men started the day in 4 heats of 5 racers. The top 3 athletes from each preliminary heat advanced to the semifinal round which included 2 heats of 6. Again, the top 3 athletes from each heat advanced and made up the final race of 6 athletes. The women’s race consisted of 2 athletes that stepped up to the challenge of the Dead Dutchman and these fearless women went head-to-head in a single round.
The action was fast, chaotic and glorious from the first “GO”. Men’s prelims immediately exposed that anything can happen in the unpredictable madness of high volume boaterX. High ranked contenders Bren Orton (UK) and Kalob Grady (CAN) did not advance past their first races. This left the field open for young guns Tom Dolle (FRA) and Kaelin Friedenson (USA) to exhibit exceptional skills, besting their former teachers in the preliminary round. The semifinals unveiled 2 more hectic races with numerous changes in racers positions throughout the race course. Semifinal heat 1 revealed a hard-fought race in which Dane Jackson (USA), Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA) and Kaelin Friedenson (USA) avoided elimination and moved into the finals. Semi finals heat 2 involved a chaotic finish for 3rd place as Quinton Kennedy (CAN) came from the very back to snag the final ticket to finals along side Sadat Kawawa (UGA) and Raoul “Honey Badger” Collenteur (NED).
The women’s finals included two fearless kayakers: the local crusher and emerging honey badger Amina Nakirya (UGA) and defending UNLEASHED champion Darby McAdams (USA). The two brave women battled it out through the crux of the Dead Dutchman until Amina got pulled wayward by a large whirlpool. Darby stayed focused and on-line through the entirety of the rapid to earn her 2nd victory of UNLEASHEDxUganda.
Men’s finals fielded an enticing combination of competitors as 14-year-old Kaelin Friedenson (USA) lined up against stage 1 winner Dane Jackson (USA), Raoul “Honey Badger” Collenteur (NED), Quinton Kennedy (CAN), and local shredders Sadat Kawawa (UGA) and Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA). Sadat Kawawa (UGA) built on his early sprint and took a commanding lead of the finals as the chase pack tangled and crashed in a magnificent fashion through the crux move. Dane Jackson (USA) and Raoul “Honey Badger” Collenteur (NED) mingled on a seam line for the better part of the length of a football field and came away mostly unscathed. Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA) took advantage of this collision to storm into 2nd place while Dane Jackson (USA) recovered from his misfortunes to seize the final spot on the podium of the first ever race held on the notorious Dead Dutchman.
The stoke was high as we arrived at Nile Special in preparation for a technical freestyle competition on this progressively significant wave. To ensure premium water levels for every ride throughout the day, organizers and athletes unanimously decided for an early start. As soon as the judge’s camera, the media team and heat 1 athletes were in place, things got rolling.
The format for stage 3 was simple, every athlete was given 6 rides with a max time of 90 seconds per ride. There was no trick limit and the athletes best ride was the only one that counted. The scoring system used, created by SEND, was a little more complex. Three judges were assigned different roles as they scored the ride. Judge 1 was focused on the validity of the tricks thrown, assigning an amplitude bonus if it applied. Judge 2 was focused on the style of the athlete’s tricks, assigning an overall steeze score to the ride. Judge 3 looked over the fluidity of the entire ride and assigned a flow multiplier based on how active and smooth a rider was on the wave. The overall objective of this new scoring system was to reward style, air and fluidity and to encourage riders to work the wave to their advantage instead of waiting for the wave to provide a pass. Upon conclusion of stage 3, all four organizers were exhilarated with how well the system functioned in a real competition as the day unfolded.
Heat 1 hit the wave as water levels continued to rise into prime time flows. Dane Jackson (USA) took the wave first as the overall event leader after 2 stages and set the bar high– really high. Athletes took advantage of the progressive score system to work the perfect wave and throw huge tricks. Quim Fontane (CAT) kept in stride with Dane Jackson throughout heat 1 and displayed his pure athleticism on his final ride with explosive, stylish tricks that propelled him onto the podium. Quinton Kennedy (CAN) stole the show in heat 2 with one astonishing ride in which he laid down massive tricks in succession, continuing his remarkable week of kayaking. Kalob Grady (CAN) took the water in heat 3 and recovered from his misfortunes in the Dead Dutchman BoaterX with a stack of consistent, high scoring rides. David Silk (USA), after taking off Stage 2 with an injury, came back to life to thrill the crowd with a massive sasquatch, which was easily one of the biggest tricks of the day.
The women’s skills were on full display as they took to the wave. Darby McAdams (USA) lead the women off, exhibiting to everybody exactly why she is the defending UNLEASHED champion. Katie Kowalski (CAN) showcased her background as an Ottawa Valley girl and drew from her big wave experience to shred Nile Special. Lowri Davies (UK) also flashed feats of her big wave prowess with an amazing final ride, securing her place on the podium.
This race was a perfect finale as the confusion and chaos of a 29-competitor race would ensure a shakeup in the overall standings. Athletes shuffled across the vast channel in attempt for a straight line and fair start. There was no countdown, just a loud GO that broke the silence followed by the roar of 29 blades churning the water. There were different strategies amongst the athletes. Some chose to burst out of the start and try to take the lead. Other competitors stayed more relaxed, settling into the middle of the pack and waited to make their moves later on.
Bartosz Czauderna (POL) got off to a fast start and led the crowd of competitors around the bend and into the first set of small waves. Hot on his tail was the crowd of racers in pursuit as they settled into more of a line and less of a cluster. Craig Ayers (UK) and Alan Ward (UK) took advantage of Bartosz Czauderna (POL) mistakingly cutting the first corner too tight and overtook him as they commenced their own battle for the lead. Kalob Grady (CAN) and Dane Jackson (USA) patiently waited through the opening section of the rapids before making big moves. Most racers chose to take a direct line high above the mandatory move rock, whilst Craig Ayers (UK), Kalob Grady (CAN) and Dane Jackson (USA) opted to take the move wide and stay in the current. Quim Fontane (CAT), Sadat Kawawa (UGA) and Yusuf Basalirwa (UG) also took advantage of this faster line and entered the final set in swift pursuit of the lead three.
Kalob Grady (CAN) made a quick pass of Craig Ayers (UK) entering the final set of waves and kept the lead all the way through to the finish. Dane Jackson (USA), Quim Fontane (CAT), and Sadat Kawawa (UK) also navigated the last section well and surpassed Craig Ayers (UK). The top 6 made quick work of a clean finish that gave them the absolute best seats in the house to watch the unfolding battle that went down as 23 other athletes stormed into the final eddy. The climax of the week had arrived and the stoke was in full swing.
The women’s race took place simultaneously with the men’s for this grand finale to UNLEASHEDxUganda. The women tangled right from the get-go and Lowri Davies (UK) got off to a clean start with the lead pack as the flock of racers battled around the first corner. Darby McAdams (USA) was sharp and focused at the start line, looking to sweep all 4 of the women’s competitions. Lowri Davies (UK) managed to stay clean through the dynamic waves and held on through the finishing stretch to edge out Darby McAdams (USA) for the victory. Katie Kowalski (CAN) charged into the finish line strong and took 3rd place whilst Aoife Hanrahan (IRE) and Amina Nakirya (UGA) fell into misfortunes early on the race course and still fought hard to the finish.
Throughout the entire week, all UNLEASHEDxUganda competitors displayed incredible skill and impressive physical and mental stamina while conquering everything the Nile had to offer. Dane Jackson (USA) and Darby McAdams (USA) both defended their UNLEASHED titles with local forces Yusuf Basalirwa (UGA) and Amina Nakirya (UGA) taking 2nd place in their respective categories. These two Ugandan legends, along with Sadat Kawawa (UGA) and Musa Mutamba (UGA) represent the level of talent and passion that the native kayakers of the Nile have to offer. Canadians Kalob Grady (CAN) and Katie Kowalksi (CAN) showed off the big water instincts of their homeland, finishing off the podium positions.
Enormous thanks to Nile River Explorers for hosting us throughout the week and providing an incredible water-based venue for our awards. Also, thanks to Dewerstone, Jackson Kayak, Kokatat and World Class Academy for stepping up and supporting this event as it moves forward. Your support is greatly appreciated!
Men’s Overall Results
1st – Dane Jackson
2nd – Yusuf Basalirwa
3rd – Kalob Grady
4th – Quim Fontana
5th – Sadat Kawawa
6th – Tom Dolle
7th – Raoul Collenteur
8th – Quentin Kennedy
9th – Craig Ayres
10th – Bartosz Czauderna
11th – Jakob Hanoulle
12th – Kaelin Friedenson
13th – Tom Dunphy
14th – Andrey Pesterev
15th – Seth Ashworth
16th – Alan Ward
17th – Musa Mutumba
18th – Val Bernard
19th – Nick Beavis – Did not compete in all stages
20th – Bren Orton – Out with an injury after 2nd event
21st – Adrian Mattern – *Out with an injury after 3rd event*
22nd – David Silk – *Did not compete in stage 2 due to injury*
23rd – Seb Clermont – *Did not compete at all stages*
24th – LP Rivest – *Out with an injury after Stage 1*
Women’s Overall Results
1st – Darby McAdams
2nd – Amina Nakirya
3rd – Katie Kowalski
4th – Lowri Davies
5th – Aoife Harrahan