Etive River racer

Ian Letton, one of the organisers of the Etive River Race writes about his efforts in this dramatic whitewater kayaking event, held in Glen Etive on 26 September 2009.

It was a crisp, clear day with a few clouds hanging in the sky and the sun threatening to break out at any moment. My watch seemed to speed up as everyone got into position and the first team readied themselves at the start line. With a countdown given by timekeeper Hamish Fleming, at 1230 on the mark they were off, the first team to start the 2009 Etive River Race. Over the next few hours teams entered the water and set off at blistering pace in an attempt to seal the victory and be crowned champions.

As 1435 approached, James Fleming and I got changed, headed down to the start line and began talking tactics. After a heated discussion, we decided to follow a similar plan as last year, slow and steady. Don't sprint start otherwise we'll tire ourselves out, take it nice and easy with long strokes. I was to lead, with James a few boat lengths behind. As the starting timekeeper counted us down from three minutes, each of which seemed to get longer than the last, we did our last bit of stretching and adjusting and aligned ourselves on the bank where we were to start.

Participating in the Etive River Race. Image courtesy of Ian Letton.

We receive the 10 second call, I am trying to focus in my mind about exactly what I am about to do, what strokes I am about to take, how I need to focus and ensure on getting through the first bit upright.

Five seconds. Then, in no time at all, the whistle blows, we launch ourselves into the water and put in three sharp strokes to get us up to speed and into the first rapid. Here, I made my first mistake. I had already gone against the plan of slow and steady. I went into the first drop too quick, caught an edge at the bottom and was upside down fast approaching the second lip with James somewhere above me. A quick roll saw me go backwards down the second drop a fraction of a second behind James. I turn around cursing myself and get back up to speed to try and catch James.

In the pool at the bottom of Triple Step, I look up to see James a good few metres in front of me but we are both going strong and still on target for a good run. With Letterbox fast approaching, I let James get a comfortable distance ahead so I don't decapitate him upon landing. I then put in a few fast strokes and launch myself off the lip. As I come to land in the pool and accelerate away, I notice James is hung up upon rocks on River Left. As I pass him, I grab hold and assist him off the rocks and we proceed down river together.

Participating in the Etive River Race. Image courtesy of Ian Letton.

Next up, a few quick strokes to get us over Ski Jump, and we enter what is the longest flat section of the river. For me, this is where the race would be won or lost. With a shout of encouragement to James, we lifted the tempo and increased our speed. A few smaller rapids pass and are quickly upon Crack of Dawn.

With a quick glance over my shoulder at James, I look ahead to gauge the line, and entered the rapid from River Right. Bouncing off some rocks, a powerful, reaching stroke to pull me through the stopper at the bottom, and I'm through. Or so I thought. With a drop in concentration, the stern of my trusty DropZone caught the tail end of the stopper and I'm under again. Another quick roll, thumbs up to the safety crew who are all bearing down on me as if begging me to swim, and I'm off. Into the pool at the bottom and slow down to let the old man catch up.

With James safely through, we set off together to the next rapid. In recent months, Crack of Doom has suffered some changes due to some boulder movement, but the line was the same as ever, hard left. It was a bit trickier than usual, requiring more concentration and commitment to get through safely.

Participating in the Etive River Race. Image courtesy of Ian Letton.

Again, landing in the pool at the bottom of the drop, this time I'm starting to feel fatigue kicking in. Not far to go but still a long flat section and the big ending waterfall to finish. So, with some more manly, encouragement we set off at a blistering pace. We breeze through Rock Slide and are getting ever closer to Right Angle Falls and the finish line. As agreed before the race, I went first with James leaving a bit more distance between us, we send ourselves off the 15-foot waterfall into the pool at the bottom. Amid cheers and clapping, I land, with James close behind, and we sprint flat out across the finish line.

Hugs and cheers all round, we celebrate some more with Graham Milton and Pete Scutt, the eventual winners, watch the last two teams cross the finish, then make a move to pack up the finish line and get back to the Ski Centre to round off what was a highly successful event.

The winners of the open category with a time of 11:01.64 were David Bain and Anton Lippek of Team White Water Active. The winners of the sponsored category, for the second year running, were Graham Milton and Pete Scutt of Run and Jump Clothing, with a time of 11:08.39.

Ian Letton, race organiser

Page first published on Friday 2nd October 2009
Page last updated on Friday 2nd October 2009


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