Rain or shine or snow, and occasionally with perfect flow, kayak festivals come in all shapes and sizes. From officially unofficial gatherings of good friends to well-funded, multi-sport mega-fests.

These unique assemblies of river enthusiasts, first-timers and nomadic paddlers produce intense challenges, excellent learning opportunities, and unforgettable memories. Add these seven kayak festivals to your bucket list.

Best Kayak Festival You’ve Never Heard Of

Neilson Race

This grassroots event is organized by the Quebec Connection boys and is the province’s sickest annual race. It’s also just up the road from the best poutine stand, ever. The Neilson Race is a pure time trial—keep your teammate close through three kilometers of intense whitewater. After the race, partake in the friendly mass start boatercross event, running all the way to the Tui-Oui Poutine stand for a meal well-earned.

BEST KNOWN FOR: A gasoline-fuelled fire takes center stage for the group photo every year—keep your drysuit on as the beer starts flying with post-race stoke.

May 12, 2018 | Saint-Raymond, Québec | www.neilsonrace.com

Best International Kayak Festival

Nile River Festival

Since 2002, the Nile River Festival has brought the international paddling community together to celebrate the 6,863-kilometer river—the longest in the world—while highlighting the world-class whitewater of the White Nile. Chill time is the only thing you won’t find during this four-day festival.

Try your hand at the big air freestyle ramp, the gruelling 35-kilometer endurance race, the Nile Special Freestyle Throwdown or the Hendri Coetzee Itanda Falls Memorial Race. It’s a perfect excuse to ditch the winter blues and enjoy one of the best rivers on the planet.

BEST KNOWN FOR: The mandatory beer funnel at the end of the three-hour endurance race.

January 24-27, 2019 | Jinja, Uganda | www.kayakthenile.com

Best Multi-Sport Festival

Voss Extreme Sports Week

The small town of Voss, Norway explodes with extreme sports during the last week of June. This seven-day festival attracts hundreds of athletes and tens of thousands of spectators, hosting multiple kayaking races, as well as competitions in BMX, skateboarding, skydiving, paragliding, hang gliding, rafting, skiing, snowboarding, climbing, cliff diving, longboarding and base jumping.

Over the past 22 years, the festival has become as much about the music, culture and community of extreme sports as it is about the competitions themselves.

BEST KNOWN FOR: The myriad of world-class rivers within an hour of Voss to fill your spare time.

June 24-July 1, 2018 | Voss, Norway | www.ekstremsportveko.com

Best Festival For Beginners

Machu Picchu Kayak Festival

Come for the festival, stay for one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The Machu Picchu Kayak Festival takes place on a friendly section of Urubamba River in the small Peruvian town of Santa Theresa.

Just upstream of the festival location, the ruins of ancient Incan city Machu Picchu overlook the river as it flows through the sacred valley. The festival boasts warm water, and multiple races encourage even the newest kayakers with beginner categories in the time trial, giant slalom and boatercross races.

BEST KNOWN FOR: Machu Picchu is just a 1.5-kilometer hike away.

November, 2018 | Santa Teresa, Peru | www.machupicchukayakfest.com

Kayak Festival With Best Vibes

Gauley Festival

The community, river and history all help make Gauley Fest what it is. Thirty-five years ago friends gathered to celebrate the derailment of a hydroelectric project on West Virginia’s Gauley River. Year after year the gathering grew, with more than 5,000 people attending last year.

Non-kayaking friends will love the live music, vendors, silent auction and wild party. This is the single largest gathering of whitewater enthusiasts in the world, has guaranteed flows and proceeds go to support American Whitewater—what’s not to love?

BEST KNOWN FOR: Guaranteed good times, on and off the water.

September 13-16, 2018 | Summersville, West Virginia | www.americanwhitewater.org

Best Extreme Racing Festival

The North Fork Championship

The North Fork Championships (NFC) is considered by many to be the best weekend of the year. Located on the North Fork of the Payette River, the extreme racing championship is held each year on the third weekend of June. The three races on this class IV to V+ river draw some of the best boaters in the world.

The North Fork’s accessible roadside location makes it incredibly spectator friendly. The makeshift village of friends, athletes, and vendors in the field at Crouch delivers the best times, while the infamous party is guaranteed to turn into a rowdy ruckus.

BEST KNOWN FOR: Pushing the limits of extreme racing, and keeping it family friendly—at least until nightfall.

June 14-16, 2018| Banks, Idaho | www.northforkchampionship.com

Best Festival For Families

GoPro Mountain Games

No festival does a better job of providing activities for the whole family than the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado. Each year, more than 70,000 people descend on the small mountain town during the second weekend of June to take in the annual display of sport, art, and music.

The Mountain Games provide multiple kid events, including a kid’s mud run, kid’s yoga, and a youth climbing competition. Just want to spectate? Get inspired watching the Bouldering World Cup series, slacklining competition, and freestyle kayak event—all within the confines of downtown Vail.

BEST KNOWN FOR: Mountains of Music provides free concerts with big-name acts every night of the festival, so you can unwind or wind up.

June 7-10, 2018 | Vail, Colorado | www.mountaingames.com

This article was first published in Issue 54 of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives. 


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