Wow, what a weekend! We kept repeating this phrase again and again while reluctantly driving away from Camp Liza which was our base for the 4 day meet-up. It seemed weeks ago that we had arrived along the same road, full of excitement about the upcoming event. We were expecting 47 paddlers from 13 countries and the weather forecast was fantastic. The Soca was mid to high flow at 50cumecs.
About half the people were expected to arrive on Friday afternoon and it was a real pleasure to start to get to know each other around the first evening campfire, many more were to follow.
The official program only started on Saturday noon, leaving more time for people to arrive. In the late morning paddlers with white water rescue training or significant experience met for a skippers meeting to discuss group safety strategy for paddling the river. Afterwards, we all came together for a group introduction and safety talk were local knowledge about the Soca river, sections to paddle and hazards were shared.
We then headed to a section of the Soca that Seon had scouted early morning that had all the features for some safety training sessions: an easy class 1/2 section of river with a large deep eddy and an easy access large gravel bank just down river. Gabriel from Outventurous ran practice flip and re entry drills in the still water of the eddy, while Annika from Packraft-Touren provided some excellent coaching on techniques for eddying in and out, and Seon from Packraft Europe gave some coaching on ferry gliding.
Once everybody had gone through the 3 stations (Flip, Eddy, Ferry) we moved downstream to the large gravel bank and practised whitewater swimming techniques. After which everybody got back into their packrafts and paddled a short way downstream to the next take out and headed back to camp.
The day was rounded up with a group dinner at Camp Liza's restaurant, after such a full day it was great not to worry about food and just sit down and relax!
Sunday morning we woke up to another day of blue skies, sunshine and warm temperatures, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were with the weather. Time for breakfast, coffee (thanks to LA MATTINA) and gear talk. Annika went over a few paddling tips and the finer details of eddy techniques, and shortly after Seon gave an in depth presentation about "Developing a culture of safety", and demonstrated proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Personal Rescue Equipment (PRE) and explained the need for Whitewater Rescue Training within the packrafting community.
After soaking up all the knowledge, everybody was itching to get into the water again and go paddling. Some people jumped straight into the river at the Koritnica / Soca confluence right next to our campground, others walked downstream and skipped the first bit in order to start paddling on the easier lower section.
We all joined together at the Cezsoca (Prijon) put in, and did a mass packrafting run with 38 paddlers down to the large gravel bank where we had practised whitewater swimming techniques the day before. We enjoyed a riverside lunch and went straight into a throw bagging workshop.
Afterwards, it was time to continue on and it was amazing to watch as people practised and refined their skills, everyone was catching eddies and ferry gliding as we all made our way down river enjoying each others company and the beautiful surrounds. Everyone was smiling from ear to ear :-) It is not often we get to so see so many packrafts together and we certainly got some attention from kayakers and rafters on the river!
Sunday evening the focus was on the third pillar of the event. Besides sharing an awesome time with other packrafters on and off the river and learning about safety, river protection and conservation was a big part of the event. Included in the registration fee was a 5€ per person donation to “Save the Blue Heart of Europe”, which fights for protecting the last wild rivers of Europe from being dammed. Patagonia has recently released a documentary film to help spread the news about what is taking place in the Balkans. The movie was only just released and we were able to screen the film “Blue Heart” on Sunday evening at the campground! Check out the Blue Heart trailer.
By Monday, the third day of the meet-up, everybody knew each other, had paddled together, had practised basic river safety and knew how to look out for each other on the river. So we formed small groups and went off to paddle different sections of the Soca and Koritnica depending on ability.
Some also decided to take a day off and go for a hike to the massive Boka waterfall just West of Bovec.
In the evening, we did a raffle of all the great gear and give-aways provided by Anfibio Packrafting Store , Packraft-Touren and PacKraft after which our thirst for adventure was fueled by a presentation from Gabriel where he shared his experience and knowledge of remote wilderness expeditions, some of the close calls he has had and the valuable lessons learnt. It was an awesome presentation and really helped to round out the whole event.
Finally, Tuesday came around with some people going for a last paddle, others starting to pack up their gear for the trip home. It was 4 fun packed days on and off the water coming to an end. Everybody was stoked, had learned and practised important safety and paddling techniques and we have raised 463€ for the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign!
This was the first European Packrafting Meetup and it will be hard to beat, but we will try! This is going to be an annual event, every year, beginning of May at the Soca, so if you couldn’t make it this time, make sure to save the date for next year!
Join the facebook group Packrafting Meet-ups, Safety Info and River Conservation to be the first to know about the exact dates for meet ups, and all other packrafting events!
Thanks to everybody for coming, thanks to the supporters of the event and special thanks to Max and Seon for all their efforts in preparing and organizing the meet-up!!!
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More info on the European Packrafting Meet-up and registration for the 2019 Meet-up can be found at www.packraftingmeetupeurope.com!