They call it “The Floateo,” where anything that floats goes. And pretty much anything goes anyway at the Black River Festival in Watertown, New York, one of the whackier, more festive river festivals in the country.
Organized by Kenny Unser, the event has a reputation for both its downriver race and debauchery, the latter coming from perhaps the world’s best poll toy demonstration at “the Floateo” at Hole Brothers, as well as a raging party at Hudson River Rafting Co., which sponsors the event’s shuttles.
With the 30-minute race extended to include the whole river, it proved one for the ages, with competitors pulling out the longest boats they could find for the flats. While this hampered them a hair in the rapids, it provided hull speed for the flats. “People were pulling all sorts of weird long boats out from everywhere,” says Matt Young, who paddled to second place in the event. “When the gun went off it was absolute chaos. Turning a 14-foot-long boat around, with 30 of your friends trying to do the same thing, is no easy task.”
In the end, Young fell prey to Justin Beckwith in first, with Justin McGiver taking third. “I was hoping that I could hang on to the respectable third place position, but Justin snuck up on me in his sea kayak on the final half-mile flatwater slog,” says Dagger paddler Chris Gragtmans. “We were battling side-by-side with 100 feet left to the finish line after a 30 minute race. I went into a sprint and my vision blurred as I committed everything I had to keeping that podium spot, but his boat sliced past mine just in time for the finish line. I’ll come back next year with an Alchemy sea kayak.”
The weekend ended with a raucous party led by the Great White Caps, sending everyone home hungover for the remaining Whitewater King of New York races on the Raquette, Beaver and Moose rivers…
Black Fest Top Three:
1) Justin Beckwith
2) Matt Young
3) Justin McGiver