Hundreds of athletes from all over the world are set to descend on the white water of Costa Rica’s famous Río Pacuare this week for the 2011 World Rafting Championship. More than 50 teams from as far away as Chile, South Africa, the United States, Europe, Japan and New Zealand will challenge team Costa Rica on its home waters Oct. 4-10.
The biannual tournament represents the pinnacle of the rafting competition calendar. This will be the largest tournament in the 20-year history of the event – a reflection of the growing popularity of the sport worldwide. The four-race schedule is designed to test athletes’ rafting endurance and technical abilities. Previous world champions Brazil, Slovenia and Australia will be regarded as favorites, with serious contenders like Japan and Costa Rica out to challenge them for the trophy.
Costa Rica hosted the first World Rafting Championship in 1991, and played host again in 1998. Since then, host countries have included the U.S. in 2001, the Czech Republic in 2003, Ecuador in 2005, South Korea in 2007 and Bosnia in 2009. The International Rafting Federation, the world governing body for the sport of white-water rafting, chose the Río Pacuare on Costa Rica’s Caribbean slope for this year’s tournament in commemoration of the inaugural championship in 1991, and to promote sustainable ecotourism worthy of a world-class competition in a country noted for its green credentials.
Rafael Gallo, president of the International Rafting Federation, said he hopes this event in his native Costa Rica will set the standard for future rafting competitions.
“To me it’s a pleasure to adapt what I’ve learned in adventure tourism and sustainability, and as event director it gives me great pride to incorporate these methods into the World Rafting Championship,” he said. “The pristine nature of the site allows me to promote a carbon-neutral event that will be a first in world championship races.”
Costa Rica is known for being the paddling mecca of Central America. The country boasts one of the highest ratios of rivers per square kilometer in the world, and the rafting industry supports a vast number of river professionals and commercial rafting operations. More than 60 competitors participated recently in the Costa Rican National Rafting Series to select the teams that would represent the country in the world championship.
“You learn a lot in other places, but we have world-class rivers here in Costa Rica that made for a very challenging series,” Manuel Segura, captain of the national men’s team, said of the national championship series. “We hope to continue to develop our training resources into the future.”
It has been a long road for Segura, who has represented Costa Rica in six world championships over 13 years. He is familiar with the course and the standard required for success.
“This team has been preparing for more than 12 months now. We have the home-ground advantage and the support of family and friends here. This gives us the platform to be at our best,” Segura said.
Among the teams to beat will be the Japanese men’s team, one of the few professional rafting teams in the world. Team captain Takuya Ikeda told The Tico Times from his home near Tokyo, Japan, “These championships represent an opportunity to help restore Japanese confidence that was shattered by the earthquake. We are very focused on achieving the best result.”
Team Australia captain Graham Maifredi expressed a similar sentiment when summing up the significance of the event for his team during a phone interview from Queensland, Australia: “This is the opportunity of a lifetime. The cyclone destroyed our homes in February, and the support we have received from the community helps to boost our morale at a time when we need it most. We are going to make sure we give them something in return.”
In the women’s event, competition is expected to be fierce, but team Costa Rica remains undaunted.
“Right now we are just focused on training,” said team member Catalina Elizondo. “We know we will need to be consistent over all the races in order to achieve our goal of a podium place.”
Elizondo hopes success will provide a foundation of awareness for the team in Costa Rica that will inspire people to get involved.
“If we can show the nation the rewards of participating in the wonderful sport of rafting, then Costa Rica will only become stronger at the international level,” she said.
The stage is set. The eyes of the adventure rafting industry will be on Costa Rica this month to see if the country can produce a memorable competition and define the direction of rafting championships into the future. For those involved, the anticipation is building and expectations are high.
“With so many strong teams, I see it as one of the closest competitions in the history of the championships,” Gallo said. “It will depend on who adapts better to the terrain.”
For team Costa Rica, the chances of success have never be better, as the 20-year anniversary of the inaugural World Rafting Championship affords them the opportunity to perform their best against the world, at home on the mighty Río Pacuare.
For information on the 2011 World Rafting Championship, visit the event’s official website at www.costarica2011wrc.com.