The Natural Games is a big sports and music festival held over four days in Millau, France. Every day there are competitions and activities in all sports powered by Nature: Kayak Freestyle, Kayak Boatercross, Kayak big air ramp, MTB Downhill, MTB Slopestyle, Paragliding, Climbing, Dragon Boating and Slack Line. Then every evening different artists and DJ’s play to huge crowds. The event draws in over 60,000 spectators over the 4 days!!! It’s a really good atmosphere with so many people coming together here competing, enjoying their sports and watching all the action and music.
Me & Katya were here in 2010 and had a great time, I even took the win which isn’t easy at these french events (the standard is very high) so we were very happy to be invited here again this year!
First up in the kayaking was the Friday evening Boatercross, everyone was given Dagger Mamba’s to use so we were all in the same boat making it fair. We raced just as it was getting dark and the really big crowds were arriving for the music to kick off. We raced in fours with the top 2 going through. Both me and Katya made it through the first round, but got eliminated in the next, racing was very brutal with fierce fighting, paddle’s clashing and blood being spilled (literally in my case: my finger got a bit sliced open by someone’s paddle blade 😉 all shown on live french TV. From the freestylers Quim Fontane Maso, Mathieu Dumoulin and Tim Biere’nard lasted the longest providing some fantastic entertainment as Quim & Tim’s ferocious battle eventually knocked them both out but none of the freestylers made it to finals. In the end the final was all down to serious racers and Raphael Thiebaut took the win.
That evening all the invited athletes from the different sports got a taste of stardom as we were all introduced on the main stage to a huge sea of Frenchies 😉
Saturday was the day of battle for us Freestylers. The number of paddlers here is amazing, there are so many kids kayaking (& adults) and generally the standard is high. There were so many competitors in fact that it would take a whole day of solid competing to get through the Cadets, Juniors, C1, Womens & Men’s Prelims, 1/4’s, and Semi’s.
Katya paddled very well in prelims to comfortably make the Women’s Finals in 2nd behind 2xEuropean Champion Marlene Devillez.
For us men we had a real marathon having prelims, quarters and semi’s all in the same day. We had Mat Dumoulin 2x Euro Champ, Quim Fontane Maso current Euro Champ, & Junior World cup winner Sebastian Devred all here, meaning the standard is like Worlds level. The hole here is quite unusual to me, it’s narrow meaning you have to land moves in a very short area in order to stick them. The prelims and quarters I felt good and had good moves but wasted too much time flushing but enough to get through easily, in the Semi’s I hit a great ride scoring 1510 to take 2nd behind Sebastian Devred.
Finals came the next day and the level didn’t disappoint with Junior girls even having high scores with Nuria Fontane taking the win, then in Junior Boys Thomas Richard, a local paddler who really impressed me easily won too. In the women’s I thought Katya had it, she paddled great but judges said Marlene won. Katya (& I) was happy anyway with her getting 3 solid rides.
They have a different judging system here which means sometimes it’s a bit hard for us to work out what scores what, it rewards lots of linking of moves and cartwheel based moves very highly. It does seem a bit softer on the actual moves but overall it’s fair (just a bit random for us who are used to the international system).
In the Men’s final I didn’t have my best day coming 5th out of 7, I just didn’t feel in my usual groove but guess that’s the way it goes. The scores were incredibly high as was the standard. Mathieu, Quim & Sebastian were on fire getting great rides and incredible scores. It was close but in the end Mat took the win with a huge score of 2350!!! Sebastian was 2nd with 1900ish and Quim 3rd with 1790ish.
We came here primarily for training and to see how we’re doing in our preparations for Worlds since their were quite a few of our main rivals here. It’s turned out to be a very good place to train, this hole is unlike anywhere we usually paddle which has made us work on our weakness’s, the french paddlers are very good and really know this kind of features so we got a good taste of Worlds level competing with paddlers on their best.
I’m not too disappointed with my result, training is going well and it’s good to get these blips out of the way before the big events 🙂 Before here training & competitions had felt like they’re going well on the way to Worlds, and by coming 5th here I discovered a few weakness’s and areas I need to improve with plenty of time to solve them. We have a newly updated regime for me and i’m looking forward to seeing how I can improve before the event in Sort, Spain in a few weeks where quite likely we’ll see the same main rivals + Dane Jackson all of us fighting for good prize money so I imagine it’s going to be tough 😉
The festival overall was great to be a part of, they put on a fantastic show, it’s also good to see that in France the Kayaking gets quite a bit of attention and coverage from the media and the public. We enjoyed being here again! Big thanks to the organisers and all participants for making it what it was!
Check out the videos below to get a feel of the event: