By Claire Ottaviano
THE Avon Descent festival is off and racing this weekend with heavy rains making for an exciting start to the month-long program of action packed events.
The annual adventure river race from Northam to Bayswater is back in 2021 for its 48th year with an expanded calendar of events.
After a COVID-19-forced cancellation last year and high water levels leading into this year’s event, hundreds of competitors are itching with anticipation to hit the water.
This Sunday spectators can catch participants in a range of water crafts, from kayaks to powered dinghys and wildwater crafts, in the water for ‘seating’ practice races from Walyunga to Bayswater.
Results of the practice races go towards participant’s position placements for the main event on August 14 and 15.
Six-time Avon Descent participant and Wildwater WA chairman Kris Smith said the seating races were being held for the first time this year to encourage participation and kick-start festivities.
“As well as getting participants in the water sooner, points achieved for participation and performance go towards their race position on the big day,” he said.
“It’s great for those that are new or not athletes in their discipline to get a prime racing position just by coming along to some pre-race events.”
Wildwater racing is a discipline of canoe racing, also known as downriver racing, consisting of paddling straight ahead downstream through white water.
Wildwater crafts have no rudder, are shorter than a marathon or sprint boat, but longer and straighter than a white water boat.
Mr Smith said record July rainfall made ideal conditions for Wildwater racing.
“We’re absolutely looking forward to the ‘big water’, we’re usually known for being slower, fatter boats in flat water, but through the rapids you excel,” he said.
“It’s what you do it for – some people think we’re mad.”
Steph Bedden will be taking part in the 124km ultra marathon as a solo competitor for the first time, previously competing in relay teams.
“My favourite rapids are at Bells, Bells is fun because it’s so technical and there are loads of people there,” she said.
“You know you’re close because you hear the microphones first, then you round the corner and see everyone on the bridge.
“It gives me goosebumps.”
The Avon Descent festival officially kicks off on August 1 with the Avon Descent Community Day at Champion Lakes Regatta Centre.
The official practice weekend is held August 7 and 8 on the Avon and Swan Rivers with the main event starting in Northam on August 13 with the Bilya Festival.
Day one of the race starts at 8am on August 14 with an international food festival and family fun day from 10am.
Racing continues on Sunday, August 15, with festivals at Lilac Hill in Caversham, Garvey Park in Ascot and Riverside Gardens in Bayswater.
Avon Descent executive officer Sean Dunstan said thousands flocked to the festival days and spectator spots each year.
“2021 is a pivotal year for us relaunching out of 2020,” he said.
“We will see the return of some old favourites including the seeding races for paddlers and the return of the adventure ‘tinnys’, a once iconic powercraft from the event’s early years.
“We will also see the introduction of some new initiatives including the first ever Avon Descent dragonboat race with a come-and-try dragonboating event as part of the new Armadale festival.”
The Avon Descent is 99 per cent volunteer run and supported by State Government and Lotterywest grants and other contributions.
Due to expected flooding of Walyunga and Bells Rapids this weekend, check Wildwater WA on Facebook for updated spectator locations.