By Brian Pinelli
Floating on barrels along the banks of the Vltava River, just beyond two kilometers from Prague's iconic Charles Bridge, is the Kayak Beach Bar, a small oasis for Praguers, party-goers, paddlers and anyone else wishing to kick back and enjoy a lazy afternoon in the picturesque Czech capital.
The location for Czech kayaker and London 2012 Olympic silver medalist Vavřinec "Vavra" Hradilek's fun-filled, new establishment cannot be topped. Offering panoramic views of Prague, the Kayak Beach Bar is situated at the south end of the vibrant Naplavka riverfront area - with Vysehrad's towering neo-gothic cathedral looming behind and the creaky, Railway Bridge directly in front. The sports-themed, watering hole, has a cozy, yet upbeat vibe.
Inclined for something more than just downing world famous Czech pivo (beer)? Rent kayaks or paddleboards and explore the historic city center along the murky Vltava waters with or without a guide. Rather keep your feet in the sand? Gather up a few buddies and serve, set and spike on Vavra's adjoining, regulation beach volleyball court.
"People seem to like that when they come to play beach volleyball, we give them not only a ball, but also a kayak," Hradilek says, with a smile. "You can imagine, despite the netting, the ball often goes into the river and then they have paddle out to get it."
Hradilek - a four-time K-1 world champion - obtained the idea for the sports-themed boat bar while paddling the vast canals of Copenhagen, Denmark. He and colleagues stopped for a few brews at the Danish Capital's Kayak Bar.
"I started thinking we could do this in Prague," says the 31-year-old Czech kayaker and local celebrity. "I wanted a place where recreational and first-time kayakers can go out and try the sport.
"We opened in the summer of 2017 and it's a pretty fun place," he adds. "Here at Naplavka, it had only been raging parties before and now we can offer sports too."
"It was supposed to be just a place that rents kayaks and paddleboards and then we decided to add the beach volleyball court.
"We also have yoga and in the winter to keep it open year-round, we have a sauna."
Aside from the sporting amenities, the multi-level Kayak Beach Bar serves up Bernard Beer - its Czech family brewery established just a few years back in 1597 - hearty Czech sausages, tasty burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches, cocktails, homemade lemonade and other refreshing concoctions. On occasion, an acoustic guitar performance helps to enhance the already laid-back atmosphere. One can even take a snooze while lounging on comfy beach chairs or inviting couches.
Hradilek's new business venture hasn't prevented him from paddling both recreationally and in competition at an elite level. He pulled off a surprising K-1 victory at the Czech championships in May - contested on his home whitewater course along the Troja channel of the Vltava, just up the river from the beach bar. The veteran canoe slalom paddler believes he can qualify for a third Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.
"It won't be easy, but I'd like to have one more Olympic experience," Hradilek said. "If I can stay injury free and train smart, I think I can do it, but if I don't, I'll be OK with that too."
Prague - often referred to as the Golden City - has been relishing near-perfect early summer-time weather, but Hradilek has left the task of running the Kayak Beach Bar to his business partner and staff, while on a trip to the United States. The two-time Olympian competed in the North Fork Championship, on the Payette River just north of Banks, Idaho, where he landed in the top 10 (fourth in the Boater X, seventh in the Elite Race).
Soon, he'll return to the more familiar, and much calmer waters, of the Vltava River. If you happen to be visiting the stunning central European capital, swing by Vavra's bar for a pivo and paddle - the easy-going Czechs can be very welcoming.
And as they frequently proclaim, while raising and clinking their frothy mugs of pivo, "Na zdraví!" - which roughly means "to your health."