KUCHING: Just mention rafting and most people will imagine a group of people in an inflatable rubber raft bouncing over the rapids and cruising along fast rivers.
These days the rubber rafts are often associated with extreme sports, unlike their traditional counterparts made from logs or bamboo tied together and used as a water transport mode.
The traditional raft is steered along the river using a long pole.
When the water is deep an oar is used to navigate the raft.
Unfortunately, the traditional rafts have been replaced by boats and inflatable rubber rafts.
In Sarawak, however, traditional rafts are remembered annually with the Padawan Raft Safari (PRS) competition, which is into its 11th series this year.
The PRS is an annual traditional raft competition organised by the Padawan Municipal Council (MDP) since 2005.
With Sungai Padawan as the venue for the event, participants contested in various categories namely Expert, Men’s, Women’s, and Tourism.
This year the competition witnessed the highest number of participants, with 144 teams, 22 more than the number of teams in 2014.
PRS organising chairman Edward Kurik said meticulous preparation was carried out by the MDP with the cooperation of agencies such as the police, Rela and Sarawak River Board to ensure the smooth flow and safety of the participants.
Upon arriving in Kampung Timurang where the 26km Men’s category race began, the writer was amazed to see the number of participants that had gathered and how well the event was conducted.
Only the participants who have their life jackets on were allowed to inspect and collect their raft left at the riverbank a day before the competition.
The participant felt excited, with some teams seen on the premises as early as 6am for the race scheduled to start at 8am.
The two types of rafts that could be used in the competition were those made from logs or bamboos. Most of the teams wore a uniform and decorated their rafts to make them stand out.
Competing teams come from different backgrounds. Teams of four people came to represent their company, some were college students and even those political parties in the state had their own rafts.
The writer, too, took part in the men’s category with The Four Elements team from Bank Pembangunan Malaysia Berhad’s (BPMB). The bank sent 10 teams to compete in the PRS this year.
The twists and turns, cascading falls, deep and shallow water, sharp rocks, fallen trees and rainy weather conditions made the ride challenging and thrilling.
American sailboat entrepreneur Bruce Balan took part in the competition with his teammates. He came all the way after finding about the competition on the Internet.
His team that went by the name ‘Pelayar USA’ managed to come in fifth under the tourist category.
“Everything was fantastic and really fun. The scenery was much more beautiful than what I thought it would be.
“The competition was well organised, I will definitely tell all my friends to come to and do the raft safari in the future,” he said.
Meanwhile, team ‘Dengis Clan’ made up of four family members of Dengis descendents told Bernama that the race taught them teamwork.
Team captain Beatrice Paul Diring said patience, stamina and perseverance were also vital in surmounting the obstacles in the race.
She described the overall experience as priceless.
For Nazri Abdullah from Technology College Sarawak, it was his second entry in the competition.
He said the best part of the race was steering the raft through dangerous rapids, adding that he will surely come again next year. — Bernama