Indonesia hosts World Rafting Championships as sport grows in Asia
SUKABUMI, Indonesia – Around 700 competitors have descended on the Indonesian island of Java for this year's World Rafting Championship, showcasing the best of the extreme sport in a region where its popularity is on the rise.
Teams of rafters, almost all non-professional, slammed their paddles into fast-flowing rapids to battle through the Citarik River, surging past jungle-clad mountains.
Spectators stood on the shore amid palm trees, cheering as the 6-person teams raced through furious white water, navigating skillfully past rocks and through slalom polls.
It is the first time the championship, which has been running in one form or another for over 25 years, has been held in Asia.
"Definitely rafting is becoming more popular in Asia," said Joe Willie Jones, president of the International Rafting Federation (IRF), which organized the event with the Indonesian federation.
"Compared to a lot of the world, it's a relatively new activity."
While rafting is little known in Asia compared to other parts of the world, it is the Japanese men who are the only full-time, professional team.
The Brazilian men also receive strong financial support and are among the best, while teams from eastern Europe perform well.
Indonesia was named host after organizers put forward a competitive bid and the selecting committee decided the archipelago was suitably exotic, with its thousands of islands, vast tracts of jungle, and steaming volcanoes.
Rafting chiefs are always keen to host the championship in a far-flung part of the world, to satisfy the adventurous spirits of those competing.
"We like to go to unusual, exotic locations because it always makes the event interesting for the competitors," said Jones.
Not always easy
It is not always easy for the non-professional sportsmen and women who want to participate, however.
"We've been fundraising for the last 6 months or so, just to get the money to come over here," said Mariam Audin, 41, a competitor from New Zealand.
"It's not easy for everyone to fly over to Indonesia and pay for their uniforms, pay for their paddles, pay for our gear."
There are 4 disciplines in the championship, which this year ran from November 29 to December 8, with male and female divisions competing across 4 different age categories.
The "sprint" is a short, fast dash; the "head-to-head" pits two teams against one another in a race; the "slalom" sees competitors steer their rafts through poles in powerful rapids; and the "downriver" is a race that takes close to an hour.
There is no single overall winner of the championships, but different countries are named winners in the different categories and divisions.
The men's "open" category, where participants are aged between 15 and 40, is the most closely watched, with Brazil crowned the winners of the category this year.
The IRF's flagship event is the outdoor championship involving teams of six rafters, which is held every two years.
And that event is set to return to Asia in 2017, when it will be held in Japan.
"Most rafters love to see new places, love to meet new people, love to mingle in different cultures," said Jones. – Rappler.com