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Valsesia River Festival 2023

Following the MisoXperience festival in Switzerland, the Pyranha van moved south to the Italian Alps to the region of Valsesia.

Valsesia has been a staple spring location for British kayakers for ages. However, the number of Brits making the pilgrimage south has been dwindling in recent years. Whether this is due to the small snowpack or the inability of British coaches to take groups out there following Covid, it is a shame not to be sharing the river with big groups of Brits anymore. 

Those who did take a gamble on the water levels this year were definitely rewarded. Strong sunshine and humidity caused heavy thunderstorms to roll through the valley every afternoon, which kept the rivers at great flows. The kayaking in the valley really is incredible when levels are good. 

The team took full advantage of the flows and jumped straight on the water. Lyndon was lucky to smash out laps on classic sections of the Sermenza, Egua, and Sesia in the 2 days before he headed back to the UK for a wedding. He was replaced by Pyranha’s UK Sales Manager, Liam Jay, who arrived fresh-faced and stoked to be on his first whitewater kayaking trip outside of the UK. He wasted no time and made sure to sample everything Valsesia has to offer – from the big volume feel of the “Little Canada” rapid to the Sorba Slides, which is the kayaking equivalent of a skate park and never fails to bring a smile to your face!

The Valsesia River Festival was a success, as ever. This year there were a few additions to the programme, and it was great to see the festival progress and bring in some of the local businesses. Alpin Rider Centre, run by Jacques Gilardone, hosted a party paddle to practice the course on Friday night. This was followed by food, drinks, and music at their bar, which is perfectly situated at the take-out for the race section (called the Alpine Sprint). 

On Saturday, it was business as usual, with teams of 3 heading up to the put-in for the Alpine Sprint, ready for the team race in the morning. After lunch, everyone headed back up to the put-in for the individual race. The water level was medium/high for the section, which sadly reduced the number of participants this year, but made the course pretty exciting. The long race takes around 10-12 minutes on a super continuous, alpine-style grade 3/4 section, so pacing is important to make sure you can complete the race safely and efficiently! The higher water levels also made it more difficult to stay high and dry throughout the whole course, and if you took a wave to the chest, it killed your speed and meant a battle to regain your flow. It was certainly challenging to go fast the whole time. 

I found fellow Brits Tamsyn and Dave on Saturday morning. They had arrived in Valsesia in the early hours of the morning following a hell journey to get there. However, Tamsyn seemed keen to celebrate her birthday by racing down a section of river she had never seen before. She dragged Dave out of bed, and the three of us formed a team. We used the team race as an opportunity to see the river and learn the lines, so we didn’t go particularly fast, but it gave Tamsyn the opportunity to see the course and race in the individual category in the afternoon. I felt like I took a lot of waves to the chest in the individual race, and constantly had to fight to get my speed back. At the end of the race, the participants unanimously voted not to hold a final, given that the number of participants was low, the water levels were primo, and everyone would rather spend the afternoon kayaking with their friends. I headed off to the Sermenza to kayak on a couple of my favourite sections. 

Despite my misgivings, I still managed to put down a good time and take the win in the women’s category. As always, the party went hard, and everyone danced their way through to the early hours of the morning. 

On Sunday, River Soul hosted a Pyranha Kayaks demo event with live music, great food on the grill, and a raffle with plenty of prizes to give away. Hosts Max and Silvia were enthusiastic and friendly and helped encourage many local paddlers to try out our favourite designs. The Scorch X was a particular hit with several kayakers who had originally written it off as being “too big”. After being convinced that it paddled similarly to a medium boat, they gave it a shot and came back raving about how much fun they had. The day was a great success and, luckily, had just wrapped up before the heavens opened and a big hail storm passed through the valley! 

Overall, it was a great week in the Valsesia Valley. With good water levels, this area really is world-class!

Lead image by Lyndon Williams, all others by Frederica Fritz.