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Ben Mercer, WA representative on Australian down river team touring Europe for World Championships, 2004

Letter 3

Sunday, 6th June

Hi All

Have come a fair distance since the last email.

The World Champs in Garmisch was an awesome experience. We marched in an opening ceremony and then raced for a few days before a large closing party. My runs down the course were only just coming together before the competition and I used my practice boat to race. I was really happy how I paddled in the Classic (long course) race but the gear let me down a bit by taking on a fair bit of water. I think the boat would have looked like a sub coming down the course towards the end ! Atleast my new boat was in good condition for the later races. The paddlers were very strong at the top end and the classic was won by an Italian... their team and supporters were very emotional and there were plenty of tears at the finish line ! The culture in the White Water is to really go nuts if you get on the podium so celebrations were great fun.

We moved straight on to Bovec in Slovenia for the first World Cup on the Soca River. The drive into Slovenia from Italy along the Passo do Predil was amazing. Bovec is a small town situated in a very steep valley and the river was like the Losaich but blown up ten times... bigger boulders and much more water ! The course finished with a slalom course that was very challenging and saw quite a few swims for the week from many paddlers trying to push it.  The thought when you go down this part is always that it continues straight into a grade 5/6 gorge where some haven't returned ! Mistakes were costly... and I lost my good race paddles down the gorge, not to be seen again. So I learn the hard way that keeping your gear together on these trips is VERY important as I have been chasing new gear and then rolling up on start lines with unused paddles and boats... challenging !

Moving on again we have come to Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic and a World Cup that is renowned for its long flat course, beautiful girls and big parties ! The major sponsor is Mattoni mineral water and they have really brought it on ! The racing was more to my liking at present with a very manageable course that let you really go hard at it. The race ends by paddling into the centre of town in the canal and going through a series of bridges and weirs with the crowd watching from above. It was a cool experience and I would hope to race here again. The very strong Czech team obviously did well and each night after racing there are large presentation ceremonies with as much food and drink as you could possible want. Then the bands and karaoke start up and to finish last night the party at Loket Castle had a big fireworks display.

We now travel back to Switzerland for the last World Cup races at Moutathal and then the Swiss National Champs the next week.

Having a great time and learning heaps. Hope everyone is well.

Ben Mercer

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