EuroChallenge 2009 – La Vila Joiosa Rocks!

Thursday, 30 April 2009 08:05 | Written by 
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Most of Europe is emerging from a long, cold, dark winter - when I left Geneva it was 8 degrees C and raining...  But I stepped out of the plane in Alicante, Spain into bright sunshine and clear blue skies.

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And half an hour from the airport is the EuroChallenge 2009 race venue - the beautiful little fishing town of La Vila Joiosa (literally "Happy People").  Cloudless blue skis, golden beaches (EU blue flag rated), crystal clear warm water, ancient city walls, the best chocolate ice cream I have ever tasted...

Office al fresco

A large group of paddlers - I'm not sure even the hosts Jonathan and Vio Neil know just how large - is staying at Hort de Gloria ("Farm of Heaven") about 15 minutes inland from La Vila Joiosa: a lively mixture of South Africans, Spaniards, Brits and the only known Danish surfski paddler.

The farm has ADSL - but the directions to the office threw me for a moment.  "Walk along the terrace past the house," said Jonathan, "about 100m further along you'll see an olive tree.  Under the tree is a chair.  That's where you'll get the best wireless internet signal."

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The view from "the office" is spectacular - the farm looks out onto a valley surrounded by steep, rocky hills.  A narrow road winds around the edge of the valley and leads up to a tiny village perched above the farm.  Jonathan's kids go to school there.

Every hillside in sight is terraced, with walls made from sand coloured stones.  No-one could tell me when the terraces were built - a thousand years ago maybe?  The farm's documentation only goes back some 200 years, but the farm itself is much older than that.

The first Surfskis in Spain

Jonathan brought the first surfskis into Spain some 5 or 6 years ago.  He was careful to lay the groundwork first though, convincing the local paddling club to negotiate with the Spanish Federation for their inclusion in the racing series.

"You can do it," they were told, "but it's a waste of time - those ‘surfskis' are hopeless craft.  They can race - but they'll come last."

The rest is history.  The Vila Joiosa Paddling Club soon moved from their plastic kayaks onto surfskis and is now the second strongest club in the country.

Jonathan's main business is adventure holidays - hiking, sea kayaking, mountain biking, climbing...  you name it, Jonathan will arrange it.  Paddling clinics are rapidly becoming popular too.

The farm is still active - producing some 400l of olive oil a year, almonds and around 50 different varieties of fruit.  It belongs to the Woof organisation - welcoming guests who exchange their labour for board and lodging.  "It's not only the labour," said Jonathan.  "The guests bring an energy to the farm too and we could not do what we do without that."

The farm's website is at: http://www.aqua-ventura.com/ 

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EuroChallenge

In 2007 Jonathan began planting the idea for a major, spectacular surfski race.  The Valencian Canoe Federation flew Dawid Mocke out in 2008 to take part in the Vila Joiosa leg of the Spanish Championships and Mocke gave a series of paddling clinics to the enthusiastic locals. 

And so Eurochallenge was born.

The response has nearly doubled organisers' expectations -100 entries would have been judged a success; over 190 have actually registered - which makes this the biggest international race outside of South Africa.

The race website is at http://eurochallenge.es

Travel the world, meet interesting people

One of the benefits of attending international races is that you get to meet people with whom you've corresponded, sometimes for years...

Peter Ekström who runs the awesome Global Surfski blog (http://globalsurfski.se/) is here; Fredrik Lindström from Nordic Kayaks is here.   (The plug for his new Fusion hybrid ski is being machined right now and he's hoping for the first boats within a couple of weeks.)

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I also met Daryl Remmler, Think Kayaks owner.  He's brought a fleet of Unos and Legends (I hope to paddle them today) and the brightest neon yellow caps you've ever seen...  I'm a big fan of highly visible headgear - and these ones take the cake.  Daryl is planning to sponsor South Africans Tom Schilperoort and Sean Rice to race in World Series events on the Think Uno.  (He's looking for up & coming Aussie paddlers to add to the team as well.)

The Calm before the Storm!

There's a relaxed atmosphere at Hort de Gloria at the moment - it's early morning as I write this and the sun has yet to rise over the edge of the valley.  There's a cacophony of bird sounds although the $&@%#* nightingale that twittered all night at an astounding volume outside my window seems to have retired to bed - exhausted no doubt.

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Paddling clinics today; downwind tomorrow and then the race on Saturday.

(Oh and I discovered that this area was the first in Europe to import cocoa beans - at one time there were no fewer than forty chocolate factories.  Now there are only three - and a visit to at least one of them is definitely on the cards!)

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Briefing and Live Coverage

Any EuroChallenge paddlers reading this: don't forget that you MUST attend the race briefing on Friday evening from 6 to 8pm.

And we will be doing live commentary from one of the escort boats... 


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