Whazzup at Wassau

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In an effort to tie in more people in the town’s own backyard to the world-class river park amenity they have coursing through downtown, the city of Wausau, Wis., recently followed the path of other whitewater park townships by hosting a summer festival based around the river. The result: the 2nd Annual Wausau RiverFest, drawing over 100 paddlers to the town’s park as well as a few cheeseheads along for the ride…

With non-stop action on the water, the event featured freestyle events, races, demos, lessons and more, all while drawing attention to the park. “It’s a great way to showcase our whitewater park to the community and a perfect opportunity to educate non-paddlers, while growing participation in the sport,” says event co-organizer Dave Lemke.

While the river’s banks were filling with people for Wausau’s version of Fibark’s famous Hooligan Race, Lemke even described moves for the crowd via an instructional Freestyle 101 lesson. “This allowed everyone to enjoy the competition with a greater understanding later in the day,” he says. They also offered free flatwater demos.
Organizers credit support from such local paddling shops as Whitecap Kayak and Bear Paw for offering Intro to Whitewater Kayaking lessons all summer long at an affordable $40, including equipment, which got more people involved in the sport.

“This event is not about the pros, it’s not about intense competition, it’s about fun,” say organizers.

Friday night people filed into Toast Flats, a makeshift hometown campground within walking distance of the park, with the city’s Summer Kickoff party just a stroll away with live music, rock climbing, an outdoor movie, and karoke at the VFW. It also held a rollicking game of Four Square.

A breakfast at the local Farmers Market fueled participants for free Yoga classes and a 5K run/walk before the paddling portion of the weekend began, featuring beginner, intermediate and expert freestyle competitions, a cheese-fueled boatercross, an anything-goes Hooligan Race and the classic Ride The Bull event, where competitors were given 8 seconds like their cowboy cousins to ride the bouncy flushy wave at Big Drop. In the end, only three people were able to paddle away victorious, including Rick Rassier, Craig Esposito and Kyle Behrends.

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