Competitive Aquascaping – Took me to China!
Originally Published in The Aquatic Gardner Volume 31 No. 4
In the last article I discussed the differences between online photo and live aquascaping contests. This article I am happy to bring both together and share my latest aquascaping experiences. When I say bring both together I mean starting with an online photo contest which amazingly ended with me being in China for a live contest!
The story begins in February. While at the Great Lakes Aquascaping Contest in Madison, Wisconsin I was inspired by my friends at the Chicago Aquatic Plant Society (CAPS) to pursue the slightly crazy idea of purchasing a ½ ton of stone from China via a wholesaler in California sight unseen. So, after explaining to my wife what I was going to do and getting her surprising approval I pulled the trigger. The goal was to get appropriately sized layout materials to improve my chances of placing high in the China International Aquascaping Contest (CIAC) which had a looming deadline of July. The stone arrived and after much effort of cleaning and sorting I had the materials in hand to create my vision. Over the next 3 months I worked tirelessly getting the aquascape done to my satisfaction and submitted in time. Several weeks later the results were published. I was informed by a friend that I placed 22nd and felt the instant joy of a personal best with my highest ranking yet. An official letter arrived shortly after congratulating me on the rank and officially inviting me to compete in the China Live International Aquascaping Contest (CLIAC). The best part was that the invite offered to pay for everything. Yes, a fully paid trip to China! My wife was even extended an invite as an honored guest which was much appreciated.
This contest is unique in that first place in each country (as long as in the top 200) was invited to participate making it feel like the aquascaping Olympics. A total of 27 countries converged on Guangzhou, China at the end of September.
After arriving and catching up on sleep I met many of my fellow competitors, judges and the members of China Fisheries and Aquascaping Association (CFAA) who hosted the event. As I discussed in a previous article the aquascaping community comes together and celebrates during these events regardless of boundaries, cultural differences or language barriers. This event was no different and I felt immediately at home with my aquascaping brethren. We visited the China International Pet Show (CIPS) convention center and got our first look at the contest setup. This was clearly on another level from previous live contests I had experienced. In addition to the large aquarium, there was more aquarium setups for nano and Paludarium contests. The hardscape layout material pile was massive. The plants were all in large shipping containers and upon opening made me feel like this was Disneyland for aquascapers.
We were given a total of 6 hours from bare tank to aquascaped, filled and polished. The time went quickly but my previous experience had prepared me well. My wife was allowed to assist me and even though not an aquascaper, was the best assistant I could possibly have wished for. Not only did she provide much needed help, she went around and had everyone sign my aquascaping shirt making a priceless memento, and on top of that had an unexpected and again much needed cold beverage ready on completion.
Another memorable moment was seeing my CIAC aquascape projected on the big screen and having the honor of a few words to the audience. To think my journey began with the stone from China and resulted with it ending with the return of the stone in the form of my aquascape is still a pinch me moment. The rest of the time we had the chance to visit the fish market, the one million square feet of convention, a little bit of Guangzhou sightseeing and the chance to make so many great friends around the world. The CFAA had daily celebration banquets that I’ll never forget with the family style stream of dishes and especially those toasts where it was customary to drain your glass. In the end I had the honor of coming home with Rank 7 in the world, praise and critiques of the judges and memories for a lifetime.
Now is the time to begin for next year’s aquascaping contests. I’m hopeful that sharing my experiences will have you entering the CIAC next year. Trip to China anyone? And remember…
Scape and Participate!