The HOA White Water challenge takes place in the Hokkaido mountains in Japan, Run by Patrick and Naomi O’Keeffe of HOA Rafting. This humble, grass roots event aims to unite the local kayaking community throughout several events spread out over the weekend. The competition format was inspired by the Peak Challenges of past in Nepal, that Pat both watched and competed in. Competitors compete in two races and a freestyle event, and must use the same boat for each event.
The weekend kicked of with a slalom race. The course was designed to leave almost all of the gates easily accessible to beginner kayaks. Most gates had at least two ways to reach them, meaning that novice kayakers could compete and still have a good chance of making all the gates whilst the more experienced kayakers had to make some tough decisions over which route was fastest. As with every race, there where some good, some bad and some absolutely hilarious lines which made for some great spectating.
After the slalom race it was straight over to a different section of river for an endurance race. Taking place over five kilometres of fun and easy grade 3. The race kicked off with a mass start that allowed some glorious carnage to ensue as over thirty tightly packed kayakers tried to break free of the pack and get out in front. Racers spread out quickly as the guys in creek boats took the lead with the pole positions being decided upon who was ever so slightly faster or more determined. Kazuto maintained first position throughout the race but Austrian slalom racer Anna was hot on his tail and Ryosuke Tamaji in third. Patrick O’Keeffe came in with a solid fourth place despite crossing the finish line upside down … he was not the only one, as tired racers continued to trickle towards the finish line, many where taken by surprise by the wave train and eddy line, so finished the race taking a closer look at the river bed. Some were simply too tired and out of breath to roll up which created some phenomenal photo opportunities as kayakers erupted from the surface of the water, red faced and thirsty for oxygen.
The evenings activities took place at the HOA Rafting base where competitors and staff gathered around to enjoy a Japanese style barbecue. There was a great vibe throughout the night as people talked about the days carnage, watched Pat’s old school rafting videos and over-indulged in Sapporo and Sake.
Sunday began with a down river raft race. There was a lot of trash talk between the HOA raft guides as to who was going to win, with HOA’s trainee Sam Davis from Australia the loudest. In the end a far more experienced raft guide, John, took the win with an all-star raft team made up of kayakers.
Sunday afternoon sparked the beginning of the freestyle competition. Kazuto and I had helped to rebuild the hole a few days before the event and were anxious to see whether people would like it or not. Water levels peaked the night before the event and the high water moved a few rocks around making the hole a little bit chunkier than we anticipated. Despite this the hole was still pretty good and there where a lot of tricks thrown as well as a couple beatdowns from inexperienced freestylers in creekboats. Yuichi Kubo came out on top in the freestyle comp, but the highlight of the event for me was seeing Ryosuke Tamaji throw a massive loop in his creek boat to come away with a well deserved second place.
Kazuto was crowned champion in the men's with Anna from Austria first in the women's. Full results will be up soon at www.facebook.com/hoa.rafting
I got a few days after the event to explore the local whitewater and whilst levels where low and choices where pretty limited, there were still some great rivers. Looking forward to coming back to this area with more water!
With thanks to Pat O’keefe for inviting me over, the HOA staff for providing endless hospitality and entertainment and the Japanese whitewater community for being awesome, enthusiastic and great fun to hang out with. See you on the water, Bren