The Paddling Life Pro Invitational


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Combining impressive creek runs with big air freestyle performances, Stephen Wright and Australia’s Tanya Faux took first place at this year’s Paddling Life Pro Invitational in Steamboat Springs, Colo, pocketing the lion’s share of the event’s $2500 purse. In so doing, they topped a field of some of the world’s greatest kayakers– including Nikki Kelly, Emily Jackson, Ruth Gordon, Brad Ludden, Bryan Kirk and others–to claim top honors at one of the year’s most unique and fun-filled events.

The Invitational tests both creek racing and freestyle, awarding points for top finishes in each. Win either event and you get 30 points. Place second and you tally 25. Third nets you 20. Only a strong showing in both will land you on the podium to claim a piece of this year’s $2500 purse, provided by the Steamboat Resort Chamber Association. “It’s a great format,” said last year’s winner Jay Kincaid, who was on hand to spectate at this year’s event, but couldn’t compete due to a recent stomach muscle injury. “Not many other events test all-around paddling like this one does.”

At the Creek Race, held on Class IV-V Fish Creek, Brad Ludden looked like he was laying claim to his second straight downriver title with a blistering run of 2:35. Then New Zealand’s Nikki Kelly saddled up with an even more remarkable time of 2:32. Kelly would have taken the top spot for men and women combined until Washington D.C.’s Jason Beakes, a former member of the U.S. Slalom Team, smoked the course in a record 2:30. “I had a great run,” said Kelly. “I finally hit my line like I wanted to.”

With a laser-timing system borrowed by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, the race enjoyed one of the most high-tech timing systems in local event history, measuring competitors’ times down to the one-hundredths. “I was scared that I might be cut in half when I crossed the start line, but I was reassured of my safety by watching all other competitors crossing safely into the race,” said Jackson Kayak’s Stephen Wright, who took fourth in the creek event. “They had a few failures when a dog wandered across the finish line in the middle of someone’s run–but he wasn’t cut in half, either.”

With Bryan Kirk sitting in third, Beakes, Ludden and Wright knew that they’d have to throw down in the playhole downtown in order to win the overall title. “I haven’t beeen in my playboat for about a year, so I knew it was going to be tough,” admitted Ludden.

In the freestyle event, Stephen Wright, who finished fourth in the creek race, came out on top, barely nudging out John Meyers in the finals. Coupled with his 19 points earned in the creek race, it was enough to give him 49 points overall and take home the crown, including a $1,000 first-place prize and free airline ticket courtesy of the Steamboat Ski Reosrt. Beakes, meanwhile, salvaged an eighth-place finish to retain second overall, with Meyers combing a fifth-place in the creek race with a second in freestyle to take third overall.

For the women, Tanya Faux kept to her winning ways, successfully defending her crown from last year with a first-place showing in freestyle and second-place finish in the creek race to secure first overall. Kelly followed her in second with Emily Jackson in third.

“This year, we again had some of the most fantastic paddling athletes in the world showing up for a great showdown,” said Paddling Life Publisher Eugene Buchanan. “It’s becoming a tradition here every Memorial Day, and one we’re looking forward to continuing every year. It just keeps getting better and better.”

Spearheading this year’s event was the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, highlighting Steamboat in the Summertime and Charlie’s Hole downtown. “The City based its successful recreational in-channel diversion water right (RICD) filing on the popular play features downtown, and this is just one way to help showcase what a world-class feature the town has,” added Buchanan. “Plus, it’s a great way to reward today’s best all-around paddlers.”

Sun Pies Bistro on the Yampa River hosted a barnstormer party following the event, complete with music by Dave Harlan (including a cameo appearance by PL’s Joe Carberry) and a flash back to college keg stands by competitors. Then DJ Also Starring took the stage, ending the melee with a topless dance-off that lasted until the wee hours of the night.

The next day, competitors packed up and made their way south to Vail, Colo., tan, ready and not-so-rested for the Teva Mountain Games.


Overall Points


1. Stephen Wright—49 points
2. Jason Beakes—45 points
3. John Meyers—43 points
4. Bryan Kirk—38 points
5. Nick Troutman—36 points
6. Brad Ludden—35 points
7. Corey Volt, Todd Baker—30 points
8. Jared Seiler, Dane Jackson—29 points
9. Jeremy Laucks—26 points
10. Kevin Dombey, Jason Craig—25 points
11. Kelsey Thompson—24 points
12. Connor Finney—18 points


1. Tanya Faux—55 points
2. Nikki Kelly—48 points
3. Emily Jackson—44 points
4. Ruth Gordon, Valerie Bertrand—37 points
5. Eleanor Perry—36 points
6. Devon Barker—33 points

Fish Creek Race


1. Jason Beakes—2:30.71—30 points
2. Brad Ludden—2:35.30—25 points
3. Bryan Kirk—2:36.17—20 points
4. Stephen Wright—2:36.32—19 points
5. John Meyers—2:38.53—18 points
6. Jared Seiler—2:39.12—17 points
7. Nick Troutman—2:41.68—16 points
8. Jeremy Laucks—2:45.61—15 points
9. Todd Baker—2:47.20—14 points
10. Corey Volt—2:48.26—13 points
11. Kevin Dombey—2:50.41—12 points
12. Jason Craig—2:50.95—11 points
13. Dane Jackson—2:52.53—10 points
14. Connor Finney—2:54.04—9 points
15. Kelsey Thompson—2:55.03—8 points


1. Nikki Kelly—2:32.58—30 points
2. Tanya Faux—2:36.53—25 points
3. Eleanor Perry—2:48.43—20 points
4. Emily Jackson—2:49.05—19 points
5. Valerie Bertrand—2:52.26—18 points
6. Ruth Gordon—2:57.32—17 points
7. Devon Barker—3:13.50—16 points

Freestyle (placing and overall points earned)


1. Stephen Wright—30 points
2. John Meyers—25 points
3. Nick Troutman—20 points
4. Dane Jackson—19 points
5. Bryan Kirk—18 points
6. Corey Volt—17 points
7. Kelsey Thompson, Todd Baker (tie)—16 points
8. Jason Beakes—15 points
9. Jason Craig—14 points
10. Kevin Dombey—13 points
11. Jared Seiler—12 points
12. Jeremy Laucks—11 points
13. Brad Ludden—10 points
14. Connor Finney—9 points


1. Tanya Faux—30 points
2. Emily Jackson—25 points
3. Ruth Gordon—20 points
4. Valerie Bertrand—19 points
5. Nikki Kelly—18 points
6. Devon Barker—17 points
7. Eleanor Perry—16 points

Brought to you by Steamboat in the Summertime, Yakima, Kokatat, Mitchell Paddles, Head Trips Helmets, New Belgium Brewing and Teva.

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Staff Post
Staff Post
Paddlers writing about all things paddling.


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