Paddling in Argentina: Racing and Rediscovering Home

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Paddling in Argentina

Paddling in Argentina

While paddleboarding hasn’t established a firm presence on the delta of Buenos Aires yet, kayaking, rowing and canoeing are most popular in Tigre. On weekends, the smaller creeks are like avenues at rush hour in any downtown city. Paddlers, jet skis, motorboats, ferries. Madness. There are “watersports only” designated rivers, as well as practice and racing river venues. Clubs and rental spots provide kayaks and rowboats for recreational use, but there are also competitive programs and some Olympic rowers and canoeists train at these clubs and are members. Clubs organize the racing circuit and I happened to get here just in time to take part in a kayak race.

Racing at Home

I raced with a friend in a tandem kayak. Agustin, together with his brothers, own and operate a boathouse on the island. A Remar Guardería houses 160 boats and it’s still expanding. They also provide rentals and are truly the best kayakers you can learn from. Agustin, Nano and a friend of theirs, Diego, kayaked not only the entire length of the country from North to Ushuaia, they circumnavigated Cape Horn. You sailors out there might have a clue what that means. So if you want to learn or rent a boat, no other place to go.

Now back to the race!

We didn’t train much. Agus recently had a beautiful baby girl and my last surfski race had been in September of last year. But we’re both pretty stubborn and wanted to kick butt. We went out on a different tandem kayak a few days prior, took it pretty casual and went out without sprayskirts, which is the skirt shaped neoprene or waterproof material that covers your cockpit to prevent water from getting in. Half way out, we had to stop and empty the boat. You would think we are smart people and learn from our experiences. So wrong. Race day, we took off on a boat we hadn’t paddled together before, of course with sprayskirts this time, but mine was lose on me and at first we didn’t pay attention to it. We were indeed kicking butt, but 2 kms from the finish, my cockpit was almost submerged. Waves kept hitting me, with the rudder almost out of the water, it was impossible to steer that thing to avoid getting more water in. So we had to stop and with A SPONGE, try to bail it. To my surprise, the sponge didn’t do much. So we kept paddling, fighting the waves, the weight, each other. Blame me for not making it out there to practice on that boat, blame Agus for bringing a sponge to a sinking boat, blame my small feet for not reaching the rudder properly, etc, etc.

We had a blast. Finished second. Not bad for such a hilarious ride.

The Lay of the Land

It’s been really fun to back home after two years. Buenos Aires is located on the east coast of South America, on the most southern country of the continent. Its shores meet the Rio De La Plata, tributaries of this massive river chain  go all the way up to Brasil. The port of  Buenos Aires is the main maritime port of Argentina, giving its residents the nickname “portenos” which literally means “from the port”. I’m still re-finding my way around the city, as I get lost often as I am biking around. It’s a bit changed – it’s prettier every time I come back and at the same time, it hasn’t changed a bit. Sundays are still mandatory family time, no matter how many hours you were rocking the night before. Nightlife goes on forever, daytime is playtime. There are parks every four blocks, more green spaces than Starbucks, to give you an idea.  People are out at all hours – coffee shops, ice-cream spots, craft fairs, backyard pools, barbecues, pizzerias (sorry, New York, you got nothing on BA’s pizza), fútbol, music, art, the lakes, the river and oh the humidity. Bliss.

While downtown is certainly beautiful, colonial and modern, my favorite part of the city is where it breaks down into islands, in the Delta of the Paraná River. Tigre is on the north end of what’s called Greater Buenos Aires which hugs the federal capital, the city proper, like a “C”. It is divided into three zones: northern, western and southern Greater Buenos Aires. On the east side, you’ll find the river, the Rio De La Plata, the widest estuary on Earth at 120 miles. Downtown Buenos Aires and Tigre are 19 kms apart and connected via buses and trains. The train ride is an hour long, but if you drive it’s only 20 minutes away. My preferred way of travel is of course the bike, and the one hour ride up north along Avenida Del Libertador is definitely one of my favorite rides in the city.

Exploring the Delta

The islands of the Delta extend northeast and it’s divided into three sections. The first section is closest to Tigre, the third section is closest to Uruguay. There are hundreds of islands that compose both entire neighborhoods and wild, protected areas. The national flower tree, Ceibo is abundant on the islands. It’s this bright, red flower that decorates the channels and creeks everywhere and attract hummingbirds. Blue herons, turtles and cormorants are some of the funnest encounters. There are hundreds of bird species to spy, and lots of fish to swim with, and if you’re lucky, you might see the very rare river dolphin. Nature is the main occupant out there, seems like man comes very second, but they have found a way to coexist. On the city side, the waterfront is crowded with rowing clubs, one next to the other. Clubs offer not only rowboats and kayaks, but the facilities also include tennis courts, swimming pools, gyms, barbecue and picnic areas, locker rooms, restaurants and bars and some even had dormitories. I started rowing at a young age, both my parents were rowers at the Italian Rowing Club. Kayaking came after, then SUP.

 

The popular spots to paddle board are along the river front, south of Tigre, halfway from downtown, in the area  of Acassusso, San Isidro, which is kite surf and sailing central – since no islands provide shelter from the easterly winds, sail sports took residence here. Somehow, paddleboarding did, too. The place where I always paddle is closed due to municipal bureaucracy. The waterfront is suffering an urbanization surge and some properties are being pushed out.

Lucas who is the founder of  the LAX SUP school that has locations here in Buenos Aires as well as in Bariloche and Rosario in Santa Fe, put me in touch with the folks at El Ombu and that’s where I met Majo and Ines. Majo is a yoga instructor who owns Alma Yoga and also runs the SUP program at El Ombu. Besides SUP, they also offer kite and windsurf lessons during the season here and then organize trips to the Caribbean. The morning we went out, the wind was blowing at about 12 to 14 knots from the Southeast. The water level was low, so you could pretty much walk for a third of a mile in, which meant chop everywhere. But the ladies were ready to hit it and so was I, not having paddled in almost three weeks! I was desperate to head out!  We geared up, and faced the wind like champs. Good practice, since next the Patagonia SUP race is fast approaching and the for it is forecast is awful. We’ll need the wind practice. Not so much for the body, but for the mind. Wind is my kryptonite.

Windy or not, the Patagonia SUP race will be another unforgettable experience. Bariloche is a beautiful city and I can’t wait to tell you about the event. Paddling has opened me to unimaginably beauty on this planet, from Alaska to Patagonia, Tennessee, Catalina Islands, the Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast, and so many more on the list yet to explore! Having been born in a city by a river, I’ll forever be waterbound. It’s what I take with me wherever I go, a little piece of where I grew up, always by the water wherever I am. If you are reading this, you probably feel the same way. So here’s an open invitation to come explore the southern spots next year. We’ll SUP, kayak, windsurf, sail and bike, of course. Take part in the local races and help the sport grow in other parts of the world. How’s that sound?

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