For the 4,000-plus paddlers in attendance, the last weekend in September marked another wild and wacky Gauley Fest, in a event presented by Subaru and benefiting American Whitewater.
“Gauley Fest is our biggest fundraising event of the year,” says AW’s Jeff Paine, quick to thank its more than 250 volunteers, the town of Summersville, Nicholas County Veterans Memorial Park, and the many vendors present for making the event a success. “All the funds raised go back to funding AW’s River Stewardship work all over the United States.”
Of course, fundraising efforts aside, the main reason people attend is to paddle and party, not necessarily in that order. While the former routinely takes place on the Gauley’s Upper and Lower sections, the latter, which lasts into the wee hours of the night, occurs in the vendor-surrounded field of Nicholas County Veterans Memorial Park. Live bands, screaming deals from vendors and general merry-making wash away any beatings sustained on the river. About the only downside to this year’s event, some revelers noted, was less free beer – which only led to more and better boating.
A highlight on the revelry front was Woody Callaway of Liquidlogic Kayaks again hosting a huge rock, paper, scissors competition, which gave away more than $3,500 in prizes to AW members, including a Jefe Chico and an XP 10. Jackson Kayaks, Werner Paddles, Pyranha Kayaks, Immersion Research, Clif Bar, Kokatat, Subaru, Smith Optics, Keen, Seal Line, NOC, Diamond Brand and Dagger Kayaks also all either held mini-fundraisers during the weekend, or otherwise contributed to AW’s cause.
“Gauley Fest was great as usual,” says Callaway, who emcee’d the roshambo action. “The venue was smaller because the fairgrounds added a fence to a baseball field. But the smaller, tighter circle of vendors made it actually feel bigger and gave the it a better feel.”
The smaller space and larger-than-expected attendance also had the unfortunate effect of overwhelming the drive-in camping space available, adds Paine. “We had to ask people to walk in with their stuff in order to camp,” he says. “This was a necessary change to ensure attendee safety and a change that will continue for future years. But the vast majority of attendees seemed to prefer this less hectic, and safer arrangement of vehicles and camp sites.”
As for boats moving, Callaway said the event is always a welcome barometer of the boating world. “It’s always good to see who and what is selling boats there as we can tell what boats sold through during the season,” he says. “It seems like there were a ton of Fluid and Pyranah kayaks on the ground for sale.”