I did the Dordogne Integrale Race with an inflatable kayak

Nicolas started canoeing-kayaking when he was just 10, but when Itiwit invited him to paddle along the Dordogne River from end to end.

Dordogne Integrale Race kayak

In the summer of 2017, when I was taking part in the ITIWIT ambassadors days in Hendaye, we had the great idea of entering the “Dordogne Intégrale”. But I had no idea just what the “Dordogne Intégrale” was. It is an extreme, long-distance race for canoe-kayaks and stand-up paddles that covers 130 km. Wow! And I was a rookie. 

The adventure started when I met the ITIWIT team on the camping site in Argentat on the day before the race.

At 6: 00 am, it was still dark. But a multitude of boats was already waiting on the water. A queue formed to embark.

I started chatting with my neighbor. He was intrigued by my vessel, the brand new fully-inflatable 500 touring kayak from ITIWIT. He joked, “If there is a sprint finish, I’ll win by puncturing your kayak.” No problem. I will leave him standing in the last few meters thanks to the performance of my mount. He laughs at my response. It’s a cool event, and that’s a good thing. The tone is set!

I climb on board and make my way to the starting line. I am on the 4th or 5th line, and I know that this kind of mass start can be very tricky.

And we’re off! The first incident took place after just a few meters. In the mayhem at the start, someone fell into the water. A few more unlucky competitors took a dip in the first 30 km, which were technically difficult, featuring a succession of rapids.

inflatable kayak race dordogne

But I got through the first 30 km without a hitch, feeling quite chuffed with my navigating skills. I took care to drink and eat enough right from the start, and throughout the race, to avoid feeling famished.

I really enjoyed myself between the 30th and the 70th kilometers. My kayak was gliding across the water superbly. I also saved energy by tucking into my competitors’ slipstream. I overtook a lot of other boats, including some members of the ITIWIT team. Every time, I exchanged a few words of encouragement with them.

At the 70th kilometer, things got more complicated when a headwind (my worst enemy) blew up and it started raining. It was really tough. I was all alone, with one group ahead of me that I couldn’t catch, and another group a long way behind me.

I shortened the length of my paddle to up the paddling rate and make better progress into the gusts of wind. One of the advantages of the new fiber and carbon paddle is that it can be separated and the length can be adjusted. You can even adjust the angle of the blades to match your style. It’s great!

inflatable kayak dordodogne race

My body started to feel the strain. I was worried about cramp, so I regularly stretched my legs inside the kayak by extending them beyond the footrest. The blisters on my hands were close to bursting and leaving my flesh exposed. I also had a few burns on my body caused by the friction of my skirt and my jacket. Thankfully, the landscapes were breath-taking, so I drew as much positive energy as possible from my contemplation of nature to get through this bad patch.

Strangely enough, my second wind came at the 100-km mark. Now I knew that I would finish the race and my second wind enabled me to catch up with a group of three boats. I overtook a few more, always taking care to save energy by using their slipstream and keep up my pace.

Then, I finally reached the final kilometres. My emotions got the better of me: I’m going to make it! I felt confused, I thought of my grandparents who live nearby, of my family and of my friends. I felt enough pride welling up inside me to even accelerate as I approached the finishing line. I felt so happy to have done it! A great race in the ITIWIT kayak!