The small town of Lavertezzo in the south of Switzerland oozes with the ambience of nearby Italy. Hordes of tourists are drawn here by the Ponte dei Salti, the striking 17th-century Romanesque stone bridge. Nina (aka Miss Peaches), though, has come to see something else – the pellucid river Verzasca spanned by the bridge, with a stunning array of at least 50 shades of blue, as you can see for yourselves in the video:

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Miss Peaches parks her ŠKODA KAROQ a short walk from the iconic bridge and goes to meet Jiří Kopečný, the seasoned kayaker who, by all accounts, has spent more of the last twenty years here than in his Czech homeland. There’s a very simple reason why Jiří chose this river: aside from its sheer beauty, it’s legendary in the kayaking community. 

“For kayakers, successfully going down this river is a way of earning your stripes. Some stretches are fifth-grade difficulty – and this is on a scale of one to six, but it is also easy to access from the bank. What’s more, there’s a path alongside the river that’s perfect for cycling,” Jiří tells Nina. Obviously, this is his way of challenging her to a short race to the Ponte dei Salti. Nina picks up the gauntlet, but when she asks which route to follow, the laconic reply is: ”Just follow the river!”

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One clutches a paddle, the other puts her feet on the pedals, and they’re off. Jiří skilfully weaves between massive stones in the strong current of the wild river, while Nina pelts along the forest path as she tries not to lose sight of her rival. Sometimes she finds herself right next to the water, other times the path takes her deeper into the forest. She’s distracted by the beautiful countryside all around: steep rockfaces are split in two by the raging water and innumerable rapids, overlooked by centuries-old stone houses on the banks.

After the race, won by Nina, incidentally, the two heroes of this episode climb into the ŠKODA KAROQ and travel a few kilometres upstream, to    pot where Jiří likes to come and make campfires. Here, Jiří tells Nina his story.

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“I practise on a canal several times a week. On top of that, I do physical exercise. But nothing beats shooting rapids as much as possible. In the last ten years, I have to say that, Switzerland aside, Norway is my favourite place. However, I’ve done all there is to do there, so I’m now looking for fresh new challenges.”

Jiří also mentions the Eskimo roll he performed during the race, when he turned over in the water and had to get upright again as quickly as possible. “I’m not that keen on it. Water goes up your nose, which isn’t that pleasant. I went down this river last week, but there wasn’t so much water. Since then it’s become a lot more swollen, which caught me a little unawares,” he laughs, before pointing out that rivers can change fast, so you always have to scout them first. The main rule is never to travel alone.

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Jiří and Nina talk into the night, giving Miss Peaches a deeper insight into the mysteries of kayaking. She finds out that you have to put everything into this dangerous but beautiful sport, despite the slim prospects of making any money. Kayakers who shoot the rapids, then, are a prime example of someone doing a sport they love in the purest form.   

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Jiří Kopečný

kayaking and adrenalin sports enthusiast,
35 years old, from Czech Republic

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Nina Gutenthaler

downhill biker and model
30 years old, from Austria

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