Descent of the River Sella

The descent of the river Sella, also known as the festival of Piraguas makes a great part of Asturian tradition and culture. It takes place annually on the first Saturday of August between the villages of Arrondias and Ribadesella and is said to be the first Spanish celebration of festive-sportive character. Therefore it was declared festival of international tourist interest.

It combines two important aspects: On the one hand sports, gathering the best canoeing athletes of our time to compete in a friendly but competitive atmosphere and on the other hand the Spanish nature of celebrating together, as it attracts thousands of visitors, both national and international. 

thousands of spectators are cheering for the athletes
How it all began…
It all started in 1929 with Dionisio de la Huerta, Dr. Benigno Morán and Manés Fernández making an excursion from Coya to Infiesto, traveling five kilometres along the Piloña River. It allegedly took them two and a half hours because they constantly stopped to enjoy the landscape.

The following two years the three men travelled again from Coya to Arrondias and in 1931 to Ribadasella. After these three trips, the official start in Arriondas and the finish in Ribadesella were fixed and the first competitive edition of the route was held with thirteen paddlers in 1932. Three years later the first inscriptions of non-Asturian paddlers would arrive and the race became of national interest.

Unfortunately, this event had to stop during the Spanish Civil War but continued afterwards in 1944 and soon got a greater reputation than ever. In 1951 the first international participants from Italy and Portugal took part in the famous Canoe race and in 1994 there were 1.400 boats registered to compete against each other on the river.

The competition
The competition is open for everyone, no matter what nationality, as long as they have been holding a competition license for canoeing for a minimum of 60 days.
Of course, also the spectators are important to the event so in the morning of festivity the train leaves from Oviedo and Ribadesella packed with people to see the start. Thousands of spectators enjoy themselves on the shore, shouting and encouraging the participants.

The race starts at 12 o'clock with the participators and their boats being out of the water in the assigned positions. The participants' blades are then blocked and being released when the traffic light changes from red to green and a traditional verse is said out loud.
After a route of 20km, the sportsmen will cross the finishing line under the bridge of Ribadesella.


For many years now there have been different categories to guarantee a fair and equal race to everybody. There are 5 categories divided into men, women and mixed teams:
  • Cadets (who finish the race in Llovio)
  • Junior
  • Senior
  • Veterans
  • Centenaries (the ages of the crew members added together have to equal at least 100 years)
Once the race is finished, the festivity transfers to the Campos de Ova, where the winners are honoured and are handed over their trophy. Afterwards there is a huge picnic with lots of food, typical cider, live music and dance. When the night comes the fun continues until the early morning hours, with people celebrating outside in the streets of Ribadesella.

people dress up, play games and dance around before and after the race

Facts and records
With nine consecutive wins and eleven in total, the Spaniard Julio Martinez is the most successful athlete of the history of this event. He is also double record holder together with Javier Hernánz and Miguel F. Castañón in 2008 and 2009 when they finished the race in only one hour and one minute. This is currently the shortest amount of time this race was ever done.
Only few people know that there is an actual anthem of the river Sella with lyrics written by the famous poet Cándido Sánchez and Manuel Alonso and composed by Falo Moro, a well-known, popular musician from the region of Asturias.
In addition to that there are statues in Ribadesella and and Arriondas, in reference to the first excursions on the river that turned into the most important festival of the year in this area.

the race is one of the most important canoeing competitions worldwide

This year the the festival of Piraguas is going to take place on August 4th. If you got interested in joining this spectacular event do not hesitate to contact us!