Beijing? Who needs it…
While slalom and sprint paddlers duke it out at the Beijing Olympics in August, their downriver counterparts did so in the lesser-known sport of wildwater racing—perhaps one of paddling’s truest tests of all-around ability– August 1-3, 2008 on Charlemont, Mass.’s Deerfield River at the USA Wildwater National Championships hosted by the Zoar Outdoor Center.
Designated an international race by the International Canoe Federation, the event included a training camp and citizen downriver races, before the big boys took to their boats in Classic and Sprint events. In the end, speedster Geoff Calhoun took first, with a blistering Sprint time of 1:43 and a first-place in Classic at 11:43. Chris Hipgrave’s Classic time of 12:09 relegated him to second overall, followed by Colby Zebel in third. In K-1 Juniors, it was Peter Lutter coming out on top for the men and MacKenzie Hatcher winning the women’s junior division, with Tom Weir taking first in C-1.
“The Deerfield’s a wonderful wildwater venue and the event was well attended by racers from both the U.S. and Canada,” says John Pinyerd, USA Wildwater Committee Programs and Events Director.
As well as Zoar’s involvement, the event was sponsored by Shred Ready and NRS, with prizes, as well as bragging rights, bestowed upon the top three finishers in each class.
“It’s a great event,” says Zoar Outdoor Center founder Bruce Lessels, himself a former U.S. team member. “And we’ve had great water this year from a near-record winter.”
Zoar is no stranger to hosting such competitions. During the 1990s, the outdoor center hosted a number of national competitions on the Deerfield River, including the Slalom Nationals, Junior Team Trials, Open-Boat Nationals, and the Wildwater Nationals in 1993 and 1995. It hosted the wildwater nationals last year, and the event was so successful that Zoar was asked to submit a bid again for this year’s event.
The event was also used as a way to grow involvement in the sport, “Wildwater paddling is a rare and unique form of whitewater paddling,” says Zoar’s Karen Blom. “The boats are 15 to 17 feet long and are designed to go fast in a fairly straight line. It’s an endurance sport that requires excellent river reading skills and ability to execute subtle changes in the boats direction down the course. The plastic Wavehopper is a great way to start as a beginner.”
She adds that the Deerfield River Dryway is perfectly suited for a top level wildwater race such as the National Championships thanks to its three miles of Class II-IV rapids. The new two race-format for wildwater involved a short sprint through a rapid, and a longer, classic race of about 15 minutes. “The Dryway section is a good test for top wildwater competitors,” says Lessels. “There are always a few DNF (did not finish) scores at the end of the race because someone flipped or broached on a rock.”