Canyoneering in Catalonia

Tim and I managed to sneak in a canyoneering session on one of our final days in Sort, Spain. The team at ExploraGuise was amazing to work with and we ended up with a personal guided tour of the Infern canyon… It was soooo much fun – we recommend both the canyon and the company to anyone that ends up in this region. They provide all of the gear and have excellent guides that speak multiple languages.

The Infern canyon is about 30 minutes south east of Sort back towards Barcelona. It is a slot canyon with water running through it that runs into the Nolagese river.

Things start off with a zip line across the river followed by a 20 minute hike UP the side of the “mountain”and another 10 minutes down towards the canyon. With the temps being up around 30 c (90f) we were pretty wiped out after the hike and really looking forward to the chilled air of the canyon and the cooler water.

The Infern canyon is a series of rappels and jumps intermixed with some fun slides and walking through water.



The first rappel was about 20 feet and got you back into the groove of things. The next rappel was about 30 feet and you ended up going straight through a waterfall. I was definitely thankful for life as a kayaker and feeling comfortable holding my breath under water,

Rappel number three was a big one – down into a big dark cave and the rope is just long enough so you drop into the water at the bottom. As you are coming down you can’t see a thing and the wall falls away so it’s just you and the rope, which is a bit freaky…

The next big drop we were given the choice of rappelling (which takes time to set everything up) or just jumping. I’m not crazy about heights unless I’m in a harness so the jumping thing wasn’t great news.At the same time I knew I could do it so… comfort zone pushed and off I went!

The remainder of the canyoneering was a mixture of slides and small jumps. It was a fabulous adventure and we totally recommend both the company and the Infern canyon!


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The International Canoe Federation (ICF) Freestyle World Championships happen every two years on either a wave or a hole feature. This year’s World Championships just finished in Sort, Spain and it was a fabulous experience.

The town of Sort is a small town in Catalonia on the edge of the Pyrenees Mountains with a population of around 2500 people. The town sits in a valley with the Noguera Pallaresa river running right through town, and the hills full of hiking trails with beautiful vistas.

The small and traditional nature of Sort made for a wonderful cultural experience for all of the competitors. Shops close from 2:00 – 5:00 pm for siesta, the mid-day meal is the main meal and restaurants don’t open for dinner until 8:00 pm. Stores are closed on Sunday’s and there is a weekly farmers market in the middle of town every Tuesday.

Sort held the Freestyle World Championships back in 2001 and the feature had a reputation for being a big burly hole even back then. At the 2018 World Cup events this experience was replicated with many athletes finding the hole challenging and flushy. Over the past 12 months Sort has invested over a million euro’s to upgrade the competition hole and surrounding area, creating an impressive facility that leaves a legacy for athletes for years to come. 

After much work, even during the week just prior to the competition, the feature ended up being a burly hole peppered with shallow areas that made it challenging for athletes to consistently get big air, link tricks and execute on trophy moves. Unfortunately, the water levels fluctuated a fair bit during the team training week as the organizers worked to determine the best level for the actual competition. This, compounded by limited training hours, made for lower overall scores and an underlying stress level for athletes.

With all the issues over the water, it was pretty easy for athletes to get stressed out about what was, or wasn’t, happening out on the water. The best counsel that we heard given by many of the seasoned senior athletes was that competing at the World Championships is not about your score. This seemed a bit counter intuitive on the surface but when you sit and listen to the rest of the message it makes perfect sense.

Freestyle Kayaking is a non-traditional competitive environment on a good day. Athletes coach each other, even those that they are competing against. Even coaches from other teams will give athletes a pointer or two. Everyone celebrates the successes of others and everyone feels the disappointment when someone doesn’t paddle as well as they know they can.

Within that environment, participating at the World Championships is about so much more than your score. It is about coming together and paddling with your friends. It is about meeting new people and making new friends. It is about experiencing a new town, a new country and a new river. It is about experiencing new cultures and trying new foods. And more than anything, it is about having fun. Funnily enough, if you are having fun then you will paddle well. It’s like one big circular reference. 

We watched our first squirt competition and were in awe of the amount of down-time that gold medalists Clay Wright and Rose Wall got. We marched in the opening ceremonies and felt so much pride representing our country. We hiked and explored the area. We participated in midnight paddle sessions with friends to try and get more time on the feature. We hosted a Canada Day party on July 1st and were thrilled to have so many other athletes join us. We met so many wonderful people – sitting in the eddy, sitting in the stands or just hanging out in town. We survived the 40c (110f) heatwave while staying in a wonderful old hotel that had no air conditioning. AND Hunter paddled in his first World Championships.

It was an honour for Hunter to compete for Canada at the World Championships and for Lee to support the team as Team Manager. It was a wonderful experience for our family and has left everyone looking forward to the 2021 World Championships in Nottingham, UK. 

Canadian Freestyle Team Trials will take place late summer/early fall of 2020. Get involved and come join us!

The Vincent Family

Exploring Sort, Catalonia (Spain)

Sort, Catalonia (Spain) was the site of the 2019 International Canoe Federation Freestyle Worldchampionships – the reason for our travels.

We arrived two weeks before the competition began to give Hunter ample time to acclimate to the area, the food, the timezone and the whitewater feature. Sort held the World Championships in 2004 and has built a great kayaking culture and legacy from that event.

Sort is the capital of the comarca of Pallars Sobirà, in the province of Lleida, Catalonia, in the country of Spain. It is located in the Pyrenees, sits at 692 metres above the sea, and the river Noguera Pallaresa runs through the region. It is a small traditional Catalan town where the shops close for siesta from 2 – 5pm every day, lunch is the significant meal of the day and very little is open on Sunday. It was a significant change from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona.

We stayed in the Hotel Pessets Apartments, which were a block away from the river feature. It was a popular place for competitors and the entire 4 floors of apartments units were filled with kayakers from end to end. It was like having one big sleepover with all your friends there for a week. Apartment doors were left open, people flowed naturally through the spaces and the little kids could be found gathered in the hallways playing games together. There was also a large pool in a wonderful courtyard that was well used, especially once the heat wave hit and temps were above 35c every day.

Hiking was available right out the door of the apartment building. Over a ten day period before the competition started I was able to fit in five long exploration hikes and a number of shorter walks around the area. The trails were similar to Italy where they are a combination of grass and rock trails, rock walled pathways and cobblestones. At times you are walking along a trail and pop out in a village in what feels like someone’s side yard. The vistas were outstanding and it was fun to experience a different style of life. I loved imagining people coming and going on these trails 100 years ago when they were trading routes before roads were built.

The other fun thing about Sort was the Tuesday farmers market. It happened on the street right outside our hotel, which was also right below our bedroom window. While the market didn’t actually open until 9, things started with garbage collection around 6 am and then the vendors starting to show up at 7:00 to set up. I would look out the window at 8:00 to see how close they were to set up so I could head out and pick up some fresh fruit since I had been up for 2 hours by then!

This was our first international competition and it was fun to meet so many new people and participate in all the events that surround the actual competition. Things got kicked off with an opening ceremonies and it was really neat to feel the pride of representing your country…

Canada was well recognized for our overall team spirit at the event – both the athletes and friends/family fans. We held a Canada Day party on July 1st and opened it up to others to join us, which was another way to really come together as a team and feel proud to be there.

Check out our next post to learn more about the actual competition…

Urban exploring in Barcelona

We spent 48 very full hours in Barcelona on our way up to participate in the International Canoe Federation Freestyle World Championships in Sort, Spain.

After a slightly delayed 8 hour flight from Toronto we were pleased to retrieve our luggage, including Hunter’s kayak. We had arranged a car and driver to take us into our hotel in Barcelona and this was a reminder about european driving styles… due to our flight delays the driver was in a rush to drop us off and make his next pick-up. Lots of weaving and dodging of cars at high speeds on the highways left us feeling thankful that it was a Sunday with fairly low traffic.

Our hotel was not ready to be checked in to so we set off exploring for a few hours to get oriented and try to stay awake. We stayed in the Raval district, which is just west of the popular “Las Ramblas” main thoroughfare and Gothic district. After meandering our way up and down small streets and finding little bakeries to shop in, we landed back at our hotel and the boys immediately crashed. After being forced to get up a few hours later to get some food, everyone was back in bed and out for the night by 8pm.

have to try all the pastries!

Day two we started off with a fabulous breakfast buffet at the hotel. Hunter was in his element and proceeded to eat ALL of the mini crepes that they had. We then hit the streets of Barcelona for more exploring through an e-bike tour. This was the perfect balance for everyone – I got to see the sights and learn more about the history, the boys got a surface overview of the area and the buildings and got to race around like they were on mopeds. As part of this tour we also had “skip the line” access to La Sagrada Familia, which is an incredibly impressive building full of so many small details. It is mind blowing to think that it has been under construction for almost 100 years.

One of the best parts of the e-bike tour was learning the history of Barcelona along the way. Looking at the transformation of Barcelona from pre-Olympics to today was quite surprising. It was also really interesting to learn of the pro’s and con’s of all of this growth and development. Barcelona is the most expensive city in Spain to live due to high demand for real-estate and low tourism based wages and many people have to share apartments in order to make ends meet.

We discovered a wonderful covered food market a few blocks away from the hotel that is a bit like Granville Market in Vancouver or the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. The Mercado de la Boqueria was full of wonderfully fresh fruit and yummy local foods. We went back a number of times for watermelon to beat the heat.

Our other favourite experience was just wandering the streets of the Gothic Quarter looking at the architecture. The narrow streets and all the fine detailing on the buildings left you looking all around you at every turn.

While Barcelona is a beautiful city, it also comes with all the other parts of a tourist destination – lots and lots of people…Our 48 hours was fun but we were ready to move on to the countryside and the slower pace of the Catalonian pyrenees.


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We are not a competitive family in terms of competing with those outside our family. Competition inside the family is a different story and a great motivator to learn new skills in all areas of our lives.

We first got involved with kayaking competitions when Hunter was 9. He was intrigued with entering our local kayak rodeo along with his friends but not really certain about the competition part of things. To make it more fun we decided that I (Mom) would enter and we would just compete against each other and not worry about anyone else. That was the first of many times that he has beaten me in freestyle, downriver and ocean surfing competitions.

Our first downriver race was the Race to the Grill at CKC Paddlefest in Buena Vista, Colorado. It is a super family friendly event on a class 2 run that ends at a beach bar. We lined up one after the other with a 30 second gap between paddlers, with Hunter first and me following. He was motivated not to have me catch him and I was motivated to catch him. The chase was on. This is a 20+ minute race where you paddle the entire time and this set up kept us both paddling hard the entire time. We both had podium results but the more important part was the fun that we had out on the river together. We’ve used this strategy in a number of other races and the results were the same – we challenged ourselves, we challenged each other, and we created amazing memories.

Our other biggest learning about kayak competitions is to think of them more as participation than competition. We are coming out to have fun on the river with friends and family. We set goals – either to do a certain trick, beat a certain time or beat each other – and then see if we can achieve them. We have met sooo many great people by showing up at various kayaking “competitions” and choosing to participate. It exposes you to the amazing paddlesports environment and provides you with an opportunity to experience some beautiful parts of what ever country you are in.

We definitely recommend that families get involved in their local paddling festivals and competitions as a way to have fun, grow and learn together. 

The Vincent Family