Kayak Race in Costa Rica

Have you heard of it? Learn all about it, what goes into this incredible race, and how you can be a part of it.

El Cacique del Reventazon Kayak Race

Cacique means chief of the native villages so it is no surprise that is the name given to a crazy fun yearly kayak race on the Reventazon River.  Located in Peralta,  it is a two day competition that runs on a weekend in the fall.

Peralta boasted important train station that was used to bring products in and out of town supporting the farmers and allowing whitewater kayakers a fun day of running the river and returning on the train.  World class kayakers and rafters used to come and paddle and do business in the town thanks to the railroad.

After the railroad was closed and the dam was built, Peralta lost most of their business – and consequently their townspeople.  Having this competition and bringing crowds of people makes the locals happy and they are proud to support the race.  Many are able to enjoy their beauty and history.

The first day is a day of time trials.  Each competitor gets two runs down the river through four downstream and upstream gates and the best time is kept.  The top 16 fastest times head into the second day and go head to head.  The fastest against the slowest.  So the fastest finisher heads down the river against the 16th fastest.  Then the 2nd fastest against the 15th fastest and so on.

Once those eight races are complete, the winners of each race now race each other, two by two again until you are down to four competitors and then two finalists to crown your champion!

The Reventazon River has a lot of pushy water and is considered a Class 4 plus.  The gates are situated strategically across the river to be challenging.  You have to make precise moves while entering the gates or you will lose time.  You also have to use the water to your advantage in order to be fast.  There are holes along the river that if you get stuck in can kill your time.  A fast run at one time doesn’t guarantee a fast run later.

Competition for the kayak race is fierce, but only on the course.  Off the course you are surrounded by the Pura Vida of Costa Rica with music, friendships, laughter and partying.  The competitors line the race course cheering, as well as watching to help provide rescue if needed for their comrades.  This increases the safety of the race as everyone is prepared to jump to anyone’s aid if they swim.

The result is a family-like atmosphere where there is nervousness before the race, seriousness during the race, but smiles and hugs all around after the race.   You’ll find them laughing and joking with each other and at the end of the day they are all there for the same reason:  For their love and passion for the sport and to enjoy their time together.

 This atmosphere not only makes it a favorite among the competitors, but among the spectators as well.  The support from the locals is amazing.  There is cheering and excitement and a fun family feel for everyone as they bring their cars and local vendors are selling food as everyone enjoys the weekend’s competitions.  

Many check out the local railroad museum and hike through old tunnels and along the river.  The support is incredible and the entire group feels playful and you get the sense they are having a great time. 

The crowd cheers for everyone and wants them to do well.  They are impressed by how fast the competitors can roll and how expertly they glide down the river.  You can find many praying for each person as they go down and the entire area is filled with conversations, jokes, stories, and laughter.   

That is the favorite part for everyone you ask:  Atmosphere.  Hanging out with each other and just having a great time.  It is fun to cheer, it’s fun to compete, it is just plain fun.  The race is one of celebration for everyone involved.

Adding to the fun of this kayak race is the Boater Cross run.  They kayakers head higher than the start of the race rapids.  As a group they are lined up and at the signal have to run about a yard,  jump into their kayak, put on their skirt and paddle to the final.  There is a prize for the winner of this fun sprint that ends the weekend. (Click the video above to see video of this fun run)

But this kayak race doesn’t start with the first run down the river.  Planning goes into it starting a year in advance.  Sponsors need to be procured and shirts, hats, and stickers ordered.  Registration is organized and permissions sought.

Then a week before the race the work intensifies with cleaning out the property to handle the crowds.  The tall grasses are mowed with a machete and all of the snakes are scared away (hopefully).  The cables are thrown across the river and firmly attached so the gates can be slid into their correct positions.  Stands need to be set up in case of rain and the start gate needs to be erected.

But the efforts are all worth it as you see the family and friends and townspeople enjoying the stress free and fun party of a weekend competition.  It is more than a kayak race, but more like a show or an event. That’s what sets this race apart – it’s not as serious. Unless you are talking about serious fun.  

The competition is strong but the Pura Vida vibe is stronger.  At the end of the day, it’s just a bunch of crazy athletic fun friends who love to go down the river together.

If you’d like to join the Cacique race next year, you are welcome to come and join the party! 

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