Wakeboarding upstream is a new sports discipline that was born in Tacen, Slovenia last year, with the inaugural Red Bull Upstream event. This year's edition brought more demanding obstacles, higher water, and bigger athletes, including World, European, American, German, Slovene and other champions. Whitewater, concrete obstacles and other objects that otherwise look more at home in a snowboard park presented a playground for competing against the stream for the king of the Sava river title. Each rider contributed to the intense atmosphere with unbelievable moves that sometimes resulted in some gnarly falls, but usually continued with killer tricks, stoking out the crowd.
The athletes were pulled upstream by a winch, reaching speeds up to 30 km/h. Riders had to fight against the whitewater, which was traveling at 20 cubic meters per minute, giving the crowd one hell of a show in the process. In the qualifying round, each competitor had two runs to convince the three-member judging panel that they had what it took to advance. The best seven entered the finals, where they took three runs with the best two counting.
The intensity was obvious during the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning; as riders tested their limits, three of them were lightly injured, but luckily everybody got away clean in the actual competition. Although injuries are a part of such sports, it is still nicer to see everybody alive and kicking, especially in a progressive event like this.
In fact, when Slovene champ Robert Pokovec heard that the judges felt that bold and unpredictable moves would be a big plus, he took it seriously and headed into mission impossible. Pokovec attacked the long left side of the channel, jumping over one rocky obstacle after another where no one else dared to ride. His performance always ended with a big bang: his body hitting the water at 30 km/h. However, his last run looked really promising, except for the bitter end when his board got stuck at the top of the otherwise flat concrete object. He fell and lost any chance of reaching the podium.
“I could have definitely done better with my last run, if only I hadn't hit that piece of metal from the slackliners who were performing before the announcement of the results,” said Pokovec. “Nobody actually expected to see someone riding that far away from the water though, so I'm not angry at anyone. I'm just really disappointed, as otherwise I would have made it to the podium. My board is severely damaged, not only due to the last fall – the whole concrete sliding experience was simply too much for it.”
The man who showed the most was undoubtedly the American Adam Errington, whose every run was extremely smooth. Right behind him, repeating his previous year's standing, was the Hungarian Balazs Bakró, followed by another American guy, JD Webb.
“I have never attended such a good event as this one in Slovenia,” said Errington, the new king of the Sava whitewater. “It’s definitely a step forward in our sport as it adds a lot of charm, despite being hugely challenging. It’s completely different from what we’re used to, and it’s about time to see similar projects all around the world. I’m super pleased with my runs, as I did a lot more than I expected for the first time here. I do have a lot more to show, but I'm saving it for next year.”
The best of the best shared the 3,500 Euro award; however, the organizers did not forget about the lone female entrant, the very gutsy Naja Puhan. She received the “Bravest girl on the planet” award, thus becoming the queen of the Sava whitewater. Nuff said!
1. Adam Errington
2. Balasz Bakro
3. JD Webb
4. Robert Pokovec
5. Freddy von Osten
6. Bernhard Hinterberger
7. Nico von Lerchenfeld