freestyle kayaking in Lyon, yes!

On the Rhône, near the Feyssine, a “wave” called “Hawaii sur Rhône” is a spot well known to high-level freestyle kayakers. The wave hosted the international festival “Lyon River Festival”. It brought together athletes of about twenty nationalities. Today, some sportsmen still benefit from this site, but until when?

Freestyle kayaking is generally practiced in white water. The discipline indeed requires a strong flow of water to perform tricks. It is therefore far from the big metropolises that the athletes meet.

The latest trendy destination is Uganda. Lyon is then an exception. A few die-hards go there to enjoy the “whitewater” spot at home.

While kayaking will be in the spotlight in a completely official setting, on the occasion of the “Lyon Kayak” which will take place next weekend (September 17 and 18), we tell you the story of this Hawaii on the Rhône, which makes you dream just with its name.

Tom Dolle, rising star of freestyle kayaking on the Hawaii sur Rhône wave © Gilles Reboisson

Obstacle course to access it

It is a real obstacle course to join the Hawaii sur Rhône wave, in Lyon. Literally as well as figuratively.

This so-called rodeo spot is northeast of Lyon, 15 minutes from the center, towards Caluire, Saint-Clair district, and Rilleux-la-Pape. The spot is also called the Feyssine. Under the northern ring road bridge.

So much for geographical indications. But to achieve this is another story. I had been warned: “you will have to either climb a barrier with spikes, or get into a kayak to access the spot”. that is to access the spot from the left bank of the Rhône.

But there is also another possibility, on the right bank of the Rhône: you have to park at the end of the hallage path on the right bank and cross the barrier.

Legal vacuum and lack of jurisdiction

But who’s in charge of this freestyle kayaking spot? The CNR (Compagnie Nationale du Rhône)? Missed :

“The CNR deals with the Rhône but outside the Lyon metropolitan area. The Feyssine sector that you mention does not therefore fall within our area of ​​expertise ”, we were told.

The river police perhaps ?

“Oh no, the navigation component, we don’t follow it. We are more ecology, sustainable development … Try to see with the VNF. “

But contacted, the Waterways of France say they only deal with boats.

What if no one takes care of it?

Christian Bichat of the DRJSCS (regional directorate for youth, sports and social connivance) in the service of supporting regional policies and federal sport explains:

“It’s free movement. Kayakers practice their sport at their own risk. There is no ban on navigation. It’s a bit like off-piste skiing, if you will. “

And add:

“In terms of navigation, there is no barge there, they are the only users of the wave. For the moment, there have been no incidents, until the day when there will be, and there, we will be forced to put restrictions. “

History of an extraordinary place

At the origin of the place, a wave. The theses on its genesis diverge. For most kayakers, the construction of the northern ring road (TEO) and the erection of its bridge would be the source of this huge wave.

This would be generated by the waterfall downstream of two mini-dams built to slow the flow of the Rhône and not damage the piers of the motorway bridge.

According to Gilles Reboisson, photographer and kayaker, this wave of the Feyssine attracted many board sports professionals:

“Kayakers came to Lyon at the time, for the city and its attractiveness but also for the spot. “

The wave offered a good way to train while staying in town:

“For the old folks who sailed there between 2000 and 2008, the wave was walking every day. “

This wave gave the idea to the brothers Philippe and Joël Doux, journalists specializing in kayaking, to organize a festival there. They had previously founded the Rabioux River Festival in the Hautes-Alpes. Joël Doux comments:

“It seemed interesting to us to offer the same thing near the city and using the wave that we had called“ Hawaii sur Rhone ”in our magazine Canoe Kayak Magazine. »

In June 2003 the first edition took place, with international athletes and judges. The festival mixed concerts, entertainment and a freestyle kayak contest during which the older children competed against each other. France 2 had even made it a subject for its 8 p.m. on June 14, 2004.

In 2006, the third season saw the greatest attendance, including the Aston Villa group. Almost 3000 people attended the festival.

But that was too little to find a profitable business model. Especially since the wave had evolved and the relevance of the festival remained to be proven. Joël Doux says:

“We could not control the water level and the technicality of the wave, which contrasted with the field that we were able to bring together, the best internationals. Clearly, the show we were offering was not at the level of the packaging we were putting in place. “

Abandoned wave, sinking site?

“All the best internationals and French came as soon as it worked. There were always people there. Now Americans don’t even come in dreams ”.

Today the wave is abandoned, the site attracts a lot less people. Only a few intrepid brave the dangers.

“This is probably due to a subsidence and a change in the bed of the river,” explains the editor of Canoë Kayak Magazine.

For Gilles Reboisson, who was also a member of the national freestyle kayak commission from 2000 to 2008, first points out the managers of the dams upstream of Lyon:

“The flow management has been changed, there is less water. “

And he adds another explanation to explain this relative desertion on the part of the kayakers:

“There are other waves in the south of France thanks to the Rhône. The less the wave walks, the fewer kayakers there are. Since then, there is a new spot in Millau ”.

Kayaker on the Feyssine wave Credits: Gilles Reboison, all rights reserved

Kayaker on the Feyssine wave
Credits: Gilles Reboisson, all rights reserved

According to Joël Doux, the wave is still navigable. But it is reserved for experienced kayakers:

“It is still usable, but much less often, only in periods of very heavy water and therefore is intended for very good kayakers. “

“The French prefer Uganda or Canada”

Nouria Newman, French paddler knows the Feyssine site well. From a young age, she practiced freestyle kayaking there. She goes back there a few times when the flow allows her. When asked about the state of the wave, she evokes a certain disappointment:

“What makes me sad is that there is still this big wave that works in Lyon. The site is still viable. But the world attracts the world. The French prefer to go abroad as in Uganda or Canada. “

As for the level of security, she explains:

“You have to have a good reading of the water to navigate there. But it’s not that dangerous. We can have a little stir, but that’s it. “

And concludes jokingly:

“In the end, the most risky are the tree trunks at heavy flow! More seriously, we are not unconscious, we have a vest, a helmet and we never go there alone. “

Another member of this kayaking tribe, Sokkhom Ao, marketing director at Red Bull in the city, also acknowledges that the wave is less interesting:

“Before, at 400 m3 / second, you could do a run. Now it takes at least 800 m3 / second. “

But he wants to put into perspective:

“It is still an international freestyle kayaking spot. English, Dutch, Belgians and Danes come here. They settle there for three days to ride ”.

The report from Riding zone (a program from France ô) produced several months ago shows what the Lyon wave is today and how it is practiced in freestyle kayaking.

Riding Zone / France ô – Vague de Lyon from Blandine BRIERE on Vimeo.

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