Canoeing competition in Spain: A festival for the people of Asturias

Descenso del río Sella is an international canoeing competition on the Sella River in Asturias in Northern Spain. I work in the Service Department at Mercedes-Benz Vans España and tell you what happens on August 3 at this very prominent festival in Spain.

Some 1,200 competitors from 21 countries with about 800 boats take part in the Descenso del río Sella. This is already the 83rd time the festival takes place. Descenso del río Sella – the Sella downstream race – has its origin in the year 1929, when a group of friends decided to canoe down the Sella River. At the time, the friends stopped frequently to drain the water from the canoes and gather new strength.

Night fell before they had completed the route. That is why they decided to try again some other time. The following year, they succeeded in completing the entire distance. More and more friends joined them in the years that followed. Little by little, the excursion evolved into a race. The start and finish line of the journey downstream were officially defined for the first time in 1932. Initially, the competition was held at the national level.

Today Desceno del río Sella is a festival

Today, the Sella downstream race has become an international festival with music, dance and excellent food. The villages in the area are populated by canoers, campers and visitors. It is a unique opportunity to meet people from all over the world in a festive and highly enjoyable atmosphere.

With a distance of 20 kilometers between the towns of Arriondas and Ribadesella, the Sella downstream race is considered one of the more important canoe races worldwide. The two towns are part of the Principality of Asturias, a paradise in Northern Spain with unique natural beauty – to me, one of the most beautiful regions of Spain.

The traditional supporting program of the Sella downstream race really is an attraction you have to experience once in your lifetime: The so-called river train starts in the early morning, a parade that takes the spectators and many costumed people to the river. Also part of the action are the Tritones – a group of race entertainers – street choirs and lots of music that can be heard everywhere all day and all night. Of course, an indispensable tune is “Asturias, Patria Querida,” a folk song known throughout Spain. It became very popular at the Sella downstream race in 1950 and was declared the official hymn of Asturias in 1984.

After the pros have finished the Sella downstream race, the visitors get in the canoes and float down the river. It is one of the most fun moments for the entire family, including many dogs. In this way, people enjoy the sport of canoeing in unique surroundings.

Even after the race is finished, the festival is far from over. It shifts from the water to the land – that is to say, to the streets of Campos de Ova. That is where the race winners are presented with the trophies. In addition, there is a large outdoor picnic. At night, the party continues in Ribadesella. All weekend long, there is never a lack of music, fanfare trumpet players, traditional food and an endless quantity of Sidra, a cider from Asturias that is poured from great height. During the pour, the Sidra hits the edge of the glass from a considerable height and froths, thus ensuring the appropriate oxygenation. A spectacle full of technique and tradition.

What does the Sella downstream means to me?

My wife and I have already been at the race as spectators many times

The Sella downstream race is of very special importance to me. I already had the pleasure several times to experience it with my family in a V-Class Marco Polo camper van. I associate the race with nature and sport, but more particularly with a festive atmosphere where you can meet people from all kinds of places over good food. It is no doubt an experience that I will take part in several more times and which I invite you all to experience with me.


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Oscar Sánchez works in the Service Department at Mercedes-Benz Vans España. He has been with the company for 17 years.