Sport in its highest expression, the challenge of adventure, the tenacity to be able to face maximum suffering and to overcome one’s own limits at every step. This is what makes Jon Ander Arambalza a reference in the world of extreme sports.
Jon Ander has been a member of the canoeing section of the Club de Mar-Mallorca for five years now. He was looking for a place to train with his kayak and his wife signed him up for the club’s team. Now both he and his ten year old son are part of the section. He regularly works in Palma as a personal trainer coach in a multitude of sporting disciplines.
Jon Ander is one of the four members of the Torpedo VidaRaid Adventure Raid team, which is currently ranked number one in the world in this sport. The Adventure Raid consists of competitions that can last for seven or eight days in which the teams have to complete a series of eight or nine stages that take place in inhospitable places all over the world, such as icy mountains in Alaska or Canada or intricate jungles in Panama or Brazil.
During the competition, they alternate running, mountain biking and kayaking in pack-raft canoes, portable inflatable canoes with two seats. However, there are also sections with rafting, climbing or rope descents. At each stage, they have to cover a route that sometimes lasts two or three days and prove that they have passed a number of pre-defined points along the way before reaching the final destination. This in itself is a physical challenge within the reach of very few. But can it be even more difficult? Yes, it can be, because the problem is that to face this great adventure your only orientation tool is a compass and a map. GPS or any other kind of electronic orienteering devices are absolutely forbidden.
The fastest, the one who rests the least and the best oriented wins, but above all, in the Adventure Raid, what makes the difference is the capacity for endurance and suffering. Jon Ander returned to Palma a few days ago after the first event of the year in the world league of this sporting discipline, which was held in Panama. He explains how to face a challenge like the adventure races: “First you have to like to suffer, because the basis of these races is suffering from the first minute to the end. Does it pay off after that? Yes, it’s difficult to explain because everyone gets hooked in a different way, but the essence is the same: it’s a way of life, unique experiences in which we share adventures with companions, we pass through places that would be impossible to get to know in any other way and, most importantly, the mental drain you get from these races is unique”.
However, these extreme experiences involve taking a significant risk: “In Alaska we had a serious accident with rescue. Our colleague Marco fell through an ice crevasse on a glacier when a snow bridge broke and we had to evacuate him to an emergency shelter. “On another occasion,” recalls Jon Ander, in a World Cup in Brazil, in Pantanal, “on a stage that was supposed to last 20 to 25 hours, we got lost and it took us two and a half days, lost, without food, with a sick companion, always with water up to our waist. Finally we found an isolated farm and they fed us what little they had, a little rice, milk, two mangoes and some bananas. However, when they requested rescue, the organisers warned them that it would take days, so they pulled themselves together and the sick companion managed to muster the necessary strength to get the team going again. In the end, they finished the stage in third place, although the organisers relegated them to fourth place because they had requested the rescue. It was an example of being able to overcome adversity and to overcome when all the circumstances are against them.
Jon Ander considers that all that suffering, but also that teaching and that capacity for adaptation and strategy, becomes a school of life: “Everything you have put into practice in the competition, you then apply in real life, in your family, at work, in everything. When you have a problem in a race, you only have one possibility: to solve it by your own means”.
The importance of the group is essential in the Adventure Raid. For this reason, all four members of the team must go together. If one of them goes wrong, it slows down the whole team and if one retires, the team is eliminated. Despite all the difficulties that have assailed them in the 15 years they have been in the competition, Jon Ander only remembers his team retiring on two occasions. “Apart from the one in Alaska, on another occasion a team-mate was so dehydrated that we had to give up; finally when she returned to her country she even had to undergo dialysis”.
The danger is always there, but almost always experience, and sometimes even luck, has enabled them to carry on: “Once when we were cycling, I saw my colleague Urchi fall from a bridge in front of me from a height of about five metres into a river that must not have covered half a metre. In the end they got used to the presence of snakes in some areas: “Normally you just have to be careful not to bother them because they usually run away, but one of them started chasing us”, says Jon Ander, “we have also swum with caimans, the first time in Costa Rica in 2010, then with experience, you know that as long as you don’t invade their space there is usually no problem. Over the years you learn to know, to know how to integrate and to respect nature”.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Adventure Raid is more than a sport. It is an extreme experience that allows its practitioners to integrate into an unknown environment, discovering landscapes that are difficult for us to ever contemplate and, above all, experiencing situations that force them to quickly improvise effective solutions to radical problems that we are incapable of imagining. A great challenge that only people with a privileged physical and psychological preparation can tackle. At Club de Mar Mallorca we are fortunate to have Jon Ander Arambalza, one of those people among us.