In 2014, Nick Robinson, from South Africa, paddled 32km in the Guadiana River, from the town of Mertola (Alentejo, Portugal) to Alcoutim (Algarve, Portugal). The experience was exhilarating for him. He told new paddleboard friends about his adventure and they clamoured to go down again with him. Six months later the 2015 Guadiana Challenge took place with 18 of the top SUP racers in Portugal joining Nick. In 2016, 70 participants from 7 countries slogged down the river route and this year in 2017, between 100 and 150 paddlers from at least 8 countries are expected.
The 2017 Guadiana Challenge is held from 7th to 9th April. For the first time, it will include a 32 km SUP-only race from Mertola to Alcoutim. As with previous editions there will be a 32 km fun paddle (open to all paddle crafts: SUP, OC, kayaks, canoes, etc.) and a 10 km fun paddle (also open to all paddle crafts).
“It is so beautiful and peaceful. Mertola is the most remote and sparsely populated region in the whole of Portugal. Paddling down for the entire day takes you through three villages, the rest is all natural land with the occasional herd of goats – it is an absolutely incredible scenery devoid of major obstacles like rapids or waterfalls. Experiencing the two riverside towns of Mertola and Alcoutim are also an amazing experience”, says Nick Robinson.
There are a few challenges, besides the 32 km paddle. “If the wind is against us it can get challenging as well. The tides play a role in our speed too. Even though Mertola is 70 kilometers from the sea, the tide still plays a large role as there are no dams or rapids in this section of river. The level of water affects the speed of flow and this is governed by rain obviously and the Alqueva dam and to a lesser degree by the Pomarrão Dam (19km downstream from Mertola).”
The Guadiana SUP Challenge will also focus on other aspects. On Sunday (9th April) there will be a race clinic with pro athlete Leonard Nika and talks with legendary big wave surfer Andrew Cotton, SUP Explorer Spike Reid (who just paddled 3000 km in Ganges River, in India) and Kiko Matthews who will attempt next winter to break the World record for the fastest female to cross the Atlantic Ocean rowing.
“After the radical rise in popularity of such a unique event we want to focus more on the social aspects this year”, noted Nick Robinson.
“Sure you can race or just paddle for fun, do 10km or 32km this year but the net result is we all want to have fun and share stories. So that’s why I have teamed up with Tom Longhurst from Algarve Marquees and we’re putting on a spectacular riverside dinner afterwards with some great music plus a full day of family fun on the Sunday”, he added.
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