To understand the origin of the International Sella River Descent, we have to return to 1929, when Dionisio de la Huerta took a canoe trip along the Piloña River, from Coya to Infiesto, during the summer holiday at his family home in Coya. On this trip, he was accompanied by a group of friends and they travelled for more than two hours to complete the journey of 5 kilometres.
Based on that experience, Dionisio tried to convince his friends, Alfonso Argüelles and Manés Fernández, to canoe the River Sella downstream, from Arriondas, with him. This first descent down the Sella, had a lot of stops along the way in order to empty water out of the canoe and to have a bite to eat, and at the same time, a group of friends followed them by coach along the road from Arriondas to Ribadesella. In Soto de Dueñas, because of night fall, they were forced to end this descent and leave it for another time. They had traveled 14 kilometres for 7 hours during which they enjoyed the water of the River Sella and the surrounding landscape.
Dionisio, and the adventures he organized, became the subject of gossip in Infiesto for a time. Even without knowing it, that adventure had been the seed of the Sella River Descent and the Fiesta de las Piraguas. Dionisio, unsatisfied with his experience, made the entire journey from Coya to Arriondas in 1930, and continued on, and finally, in 1931, he reached Ribadesella.
In 1932, a plan was made for the descent from Arriondas to Ribadesella. That year, the first competition took place and a total of thirteen canoeists, from Oviedo, Gijón, Ribadesella and Infiesto all took part. The first participation of canoeists from outside of the local area occurred in 1935.
The Sella River Descent was postposed between 1936 and 1943 due to the Spanish Civil War and the postwar period, it resumed on August 11, 1944, and for the first race only 11 canoes took part.
The Sella River Descent first started to attract international attention in 1951, when for the first time, foreign competitors registered to compete, including Italians, Portuguese and French. Cuba was the first team from another continent to take part in 1955.
The year 1960 marked a further milestone in the history of the Descent when the Spanish Canoe Federation was created. The Federation accepted Dionisio de la Huerta’s long standing request to separate the Spanish Canoe Federation from the Rowing Federation, and this decision guaranteed the future of the Fiesta de las Piraguas.
Since that time, the Sella River Descent has increased in size and fame. Currently, over a thousand canoeists take part and the number of competitors increases annually. Now, it is considered as one of the most, if not the most, important universal tests of international river descent competitions.