As with most great ideas, GalwayFest’s conception took place in the early hours of the morning, fuelled by alcohol and friendship. From the drunken dreams of Barry Loughanne and Andrew Regan to a small, local event that aimed to gather Irish kayakers in the iconic city of Galway to celebrate both the local whitewater and night life. This small festival has grown exponentially over the past few years, augmented by the location, focus on all levels of kayakers and the overwhelming hospitality and positivity of the Irish kayaking community. Five years after GalwayFest was dreamt up, it’s the biggest whitewater event in Ireland.
Video by Lucien Schreiber.
The event consists of two events, a down river race on Saturday and a freestyle competition on Sunday. Saturdays race takes place on the Boulisce river. The rapids are not gnarly, hard or even particularly big, but it is still a fantastic race course. Beginners can enjoy their first taste of racing whilst more advanced kayakers face some tough decisions on which routes to take through the boulder gardens. The river is fast and shallow, and a lot of racers come unstuck on unseen rocks and have a tough job of clawing back time from these hapless standings, myself included. The race course concludes with a bang at Poll Gorn, after racing for six minutes this tricky little rapid succeeded in taking advantage of several breathless kayakers and provided the crowd with some quintessential carnage.
The eight fastest kayakers in the men and women categories moved onto a boater cross final. As with every boater cross there was the usual dogfight at the beginning. Barry Loughanne who proved to the most cunningly shameless, rule bending, son of a … ahem, I mean fastest man in the final, got out in front and stayed in front for the duration of the race. Young up-and-comer Robbie Keirans took a well deserved second place and Neil Slevein finished in third, which left us with a pack of five fighting for the remaining positions. In the women’s Aoife Hanrahan and Lisa hasselwander battled it out for first with Aoife eventually taking the win, Lisa finished second, and Laura Griffin in third.
With the boater cross over and results decided it was time for the main event, the Saturday night party in Galway city. I can’t quite recall all of the details but there where an abundance of happy people, alcohol and what I am pretty sure was either a leprechaun or someone who was dressed in green and far too young to be in that night club … sadly after catching glimpses of potential, mythical Irish creatures there was then yet even more alcohol and after that it all goes a little bit fuzzy.
Sunday morning was a struggle. I sincerely regretted immersing myself quite so deeply in the Irish culture the night before. Thankfully the event organisers are also keen proponents of ‘having the craic’ and most importantly realists, which meant that the freestyle event began at the leisurely time of 11:00 am.
The freestyle spot is called Tuam and is an almost perfectly uniform, river wide hole. At higher levels any trick can be thrown and landed here. Sadly some freak weather had left Ireland rainless in the lead up to the event. The hole was still good but ridiculously flushy. The organisers instigated a new rule that a trick would still score if you flush but you would get bonuses if you did manage to stick it. The event is run in a jam session format which allows competitors to relax a little and focus on just doing the biggest and best tricks that they can. The score sheet has also been adapted to be more accommodating to first time freestylers; with points being awarded for side surfing, paddle spinning and anything that is particularly hilarious or ridiculous.
This is the fun that Galway Fest is about! #Tuam #freestyle #fun
Posted by I-CANOE on Sunday, 6 March 2016
I took home first in the freestyle event with Barry just behind me and Palm’s own flying frenchman Lucien Schreiber in third. In the women’s, German powerhouse Lisa Hasselwander took home first with Aisling Griffin in second and Derv Mcauley in third. There where some great tricks thrown in the pro categories but it was the tireless enthusiasm and endless shenanigans of the beginner and sport categories that rightly ignited the biggest cheers from the crowd.
Sadly despite winning the freestyle event, a bad result in the boater cross left me in second place overall, which meant that yet again Barry Loughanne became the King of Galway. With Lisa Hassalwander taking home first overall in the women’s category.
With thanks to everyone that makes this event happen, the Irish kayaking community for the amazing hospitality and I-Canoe for hooking me up with equipment to use and thoroughly looking forward to coming back next year for more good times and to finally dethrone Barry!
All photos provided by Damein Byrne and Aidrian Durrant