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Cover Story: A Festival of Many Firsts

Story and pics by Tan Mei Kuan

Kampar River Festival (KRF), Malaysia’s first international and largest white-water rafting event complete with global accreditations, unfolded along the Kampar River in Gopeng from July 5 to 7. Fusing sport and sustainability to unite the community, the first world-class river sports tourism festival in the Silver State featured rafting race, kayak race, river tubing race (a first in Asia) plus interactive activities for all via geopark seminar, river conservation efforts and celebration of culture and heritage among others.

With plenty of good vibes, the lively affair saw the congregation of up to 400 professional athletes representing their countries (Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore, Chile, France, Australia and German, to name a few) in addition to school students, NGOs, volunteers from universities and locals.

Sport Meets Conservation to Unite Community

Initiated by Radak Adventure with the support of Tourism Perak and Ministry of Youth and Sports, the three-day Kampar River Festival (KRF) made its debut as the first to be endorsed by the International Rafting Federation (IRF) and Indonesia White Water Federation (FAJI). The IRF is recognised as the world governing body for rafting sport responsible for fostering fair, credible and legitimate international rafting competition at all levels since 1997.

Mohd Hasrol bin Kamis @ Mahmad, Event Director of KRF explained, “Prior to the festival, white water rafting is often seen as tourism or recreational activity even though it is a type of sport with annual world rafting championships around the world. Our utmost gratitude to the state government, Ministry of Youth and Sports and Tourism Perak as we are in line with their mission to organise events which impact the local economy. Gopeng is well-known as the adventure hub in Malaysia but are we fully aware that these activities generate an impact on the locals or operators?”

“Among Asian countries, tubing race has yet to be organised as it is more of a fun race. We are doing it to let people know besides rafting, river tubing is among the other activities available along Kampar River which is easily accessible from Kuala Lumpur or Penang for a day trip,” Hasrol, who hails from Kedah and regards Gopeng as a hometown, added. A rafting athlete himself, he started off as a freelance river guide since 2004 and has been entering tournaments since 2012.

To begin with, Kampar River is suitable for paddling sports due to its rapids and surrounding geographical areas. It is also a strategic location to introduce Kinta Valley as a national geopark and tourist destination leading to further research and development at the Kampar area.

The festival kicked off with the rafting race which had four disciplines or challenges: Sprint, Head-to-Head (H2H), Slalom and Downriver. The points earned in each discipline were added to determine the overall winner. Each team had four paddlers with a reserve.

The Sprint was all about hard paddling and a short burst of speed as the teams were set off one by one to race against the clock on a 400m route. The H2H was visually exciting as it pitted two teams together in a fast-paced, 600m sprint for the finish line in a knockout elimination format. The Slalom was the most technically challenging as it demanded a high level of skill and teamwork to navigate the raft for 500m through downriver and upriver gates in powerful rapids. Touching or failing to pass a gate would result in a time penalty as each team ran the course twice. The Downriver was the star event as it was up to an hour of racing along 7km of continuous and powerful rapids. Here, technical ability and endurance were essential elements.

Rex Kayak School (B), made up of Malaysian and Indonesian team members, emerged as the overall champion for rafting.

“I am very proud of my team as this is our first-time collaborating. We are overjoyed. Our preparation included five months of practice while the success factor is the chemistry within the group, all for one and one for all. We are now planning for the next event in Indonesia coming October,” 35-year-old Mohd Firdaus B Zulkifle, team leader of Rex Kayak School (B), told Ipoh Echo. His team members were 22-year-old Wan Mohd Firdaus B Wan Osman, Agus Gunawan, 23-year-old Erwan Saimson B Saimudin and 21-year-old Muhd Amerul Aqmil B Abu Kasim.

Meanwhile, kayak race (individual) had two disciplines: Downriver and Slalom.

Ipoh Echo spoke to 30-year-old Abigail Nimui from Australia, the sole female athlete for kayak who expressed, “I have been kayaking for about four years but this is my first race. Just being a part of the river and journey is such an amazing feeling. I find it a meditation space because you can’t be anywhere except right where you are in the moment on the river. Plus, the whole community that comes with the river, everyone is so supportive and caring. I wish there were more girls! When I found out I was the only one, I thought I had to do this for all the girls who aren’t here and hopefully inspire some other girls to get into the amazing sport.”

Here’s her precious advice for aspiring kayak athletes: “Just keep going! There are going to be days when you do not feel like you are doing your best. Keep practising, get on different rivers and meet more people.” This was her first time competing outside of Australia. What is more, she was part of the Australian women’s rafting team last year for the Pre-Worlds on the Tully River.

Agus Gunawan, the amiable 23-year-old from Indonesia, was crowned the overall champion for the kayak race. He shared with Ipoh Echo, “I have been kayaking since 2011. This is my first time competing out of Indonesia. Daily training, persistence and confidence play a huge part in my success. For those who are new to the sport, my advice would be to have plenty of training, keep learning more and don’t be afraid.”

Izziantee Izzahan and Muhd Rafizi Johari won first placings for the tubing race in the respective female and male categories.

“This is a meaningful event which promotes local tourism products and instils the love for rivers. We are about to embark on a physical development project to upgrade Jahang Square to accommodate more tourists. Besides the Kampar River, Ulu Slim and Sungkai also have the potential to be developed as a hotspot for adventure sports. Part of long-term planning, it is led by this festival to be followed by perhaps more championships to make it a signature programme not only for the state but the country,” explained Tan Kar Hing, Executive Councillor for Tourism, Arts and Culture during the opening ceremony which preceded a symbolic fish release session.

Spotted was Dato’ Nolee Ashilin Mohammed Radzi, Adun for Tualang Sekah.

“Thank you for making this the biggest river sport tourism event ever in Perak. It’s about raising awareness of the world that in Perak we have this area of outstanding natural beauty that we have to preserve. You, by being here, are part of the high-performance sports and tourism development agenda to save our environment. The trinity that the state government wants to further is encapsulated in the competition: environment, sports and tourism. In 2018, the world rafting championship was held in Argentina. In 2019, it unveiled in Australia. Next year, it will be in Chile. I’m here to challenge the rafting community to come to Malaysia in 2021. We will show you the best of the best of food, culture, history, art and the most beautiful of people here in Perak!” enthused Howard Lee Chuan How, the Executive Councillor for Youth and Sports Development during the closing ceremony.

Present was Dr Lee Boon Chye, the Deputy Minister of Health and Member of Parliament for Gopeng.

For more info, visit Kampar River Festival’s Instagram page by the same name or its website: www.radakadventure/kampar-river-festival

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