SELLA DESCENT: AN INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION OF CANOEING RACES
Just a short distance from the Picos de Europa, the highest mountains in Asturias, every first Saturday of August, the International Descent of the Sella takes place. It is a typically Asturian popular festival disguised as a canoeing competition.
Since 1929, it has been held along the river stretch between the towns of Arriondas and Ribadesella, affectionately referred to by locals as “Les Piragües”. Over time, this event has gained renown and now attracts competitors from up to 15 different nationalities.
As expected, this summer competition has its popular counterpart in the massive attendance of travelers and enthusiasts throughout the year.
Presently, the Descent of the Sella proudly claims to be the main active tourism event in the region, with a staggering 350,000 people canoeing down the river in 2013 alone.
This event also boosts the Asturian economy during the summer months, thanks to the constant activity of canoe rental companies, restaurants, and hotels.
If you join us, we’ll tell you more about the origin of this sporting event and its unique celebration, as well as provide some tips if you’re thinking of trying it yourself.
The Origin of the Sella Descent
The history behind the Descent of the Sella dates back to Dionisio de la Huerta, a Barcelonan with Asturian roots who was enamored with sports, acquired a canoe in the 1920s to explore the rivers of Asturias, his summer retreat.
Between 1929 and 1931, Dionisio and his friends made numerous attempts to descend the Sella River from Arriondas to Ribadesella. Finally, in 1932, they pulled it off and nailed down the starting and ending points for the route that turned into a local sports competition the next year.
Since then, the Descent of the Sella has been getting more and more famous. First, it became popular all over Spain, with athletes coming from every province. Then, starting in 1951, it went international when the first foreign paddler joined the competition.
Today, this event boasts the participation of over a thousand canoeists, and the number continues to grow each year.
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Descent of the Sella: The Route
As we mentioned before, the regular route goes through the twenty kilometers of the river that goes from Arriondas, a town inland in Asturias, to Ribadesella, a coastal town where the Sella River meets the sea.
Along this route, participants encounter various “landmarks”, such as bridges and footbridges, helping them calculate the distance covered. For example, the Fuentes footbridge signals competitors that they have covered 4.5 kilometers. The Toraño Bridge indicates kilometer 8, while the Uña footbridge marks kilometer 11.
Finally, the Ribadesella Bridge, filled with spectators cheering on the participants, marks the end of the race.
A peculiarity is that, since the river route is subject to slight variations depending on the tides, its course is never the same in each new edition.
The Piraguas Festivity, the Most Festive Side of the Event
And don’t forget, around the sports competition, the famous “Piraguas Festival” is brewing, one of the most prominent festivals in all of Spain. At one point, it was declared an International Tourist Interest Festival, and the fun takes place on Friday night in Arriondas and on Saturday night in Ribadesella.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to choose one and miss the other. The party is everywhere, and the “river train” that goes from one place to another allows you to enjoy it while closely following the race along the river.
Like any good party, it has its proclamation, where some figure from the world of canoeing recites the famous words of Dionisio de la Huerta, the founder: “Let the public be silent and listen to our word. By order of Don Pelayo, after measuring the waters, the canoe race is once again authorized in Arriondas”.
After the arrival of the train (and, of course, the canoeists), the party explodes in Ribadesella, with decorated caravans, regional chants, exotic costumes, and cider and brass bands everywhere.
The Campos de Oba, in Lloviu, is the perfect place for a massive pilgrimage where typical Asturian food mixes with the award ceremony. Don’t miss it!
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Tips for Descending the Sella with Friends or Family
One of the great things about this sports event is that you can do it, as an enthusiast, at any time of the year. It is ideal for enjoying with friends or even with family.
From Arriondas, you can opt for a descent of 6, 10, or 14 kilometers, depending on your physical condition, personal circumstances, or time availability. You can even arrange with one of the canoe rental companies in the area to pick you up halfway through the route.
Generally, it is advised to bring certain equipment for the descent of the Sella: sports clothing or a swimsuit, a raincoat and comfortable footwear, a towel, and a change of clothes, sunscreen, and a hat, as well as a waterproof bag to keep your mobile phone, wallet, and keys safe.
In the area, many companies organize and rent all the necessary equipment to face the adventure of the Sella. They always provide the canoe and paddle, as well as the life jacket and a waterproof bag to store your belongings. Additionally, most of these companies offer the option to hire a picnic or a taxi service to take you back from Ribadesella to Arriondas.
Some recommended companies are Jaire Aventura and the Asturian Canoeing School-RanaSella, both located in Arriondas. Get ready for an unforgettable experience on the Sella River!