While COVID-19 has shut down many other outdoor programs throughout the country, it’s proven to be a boon for slalom kayakers — especially younger ones, members of Team Colorado — at Lyons, Colo.’s whitewater park on the South St. Vrain River.
“We shut down for a while as the club respected social distancing guidelines,” says local ringleader Scott Shipley, a three-time World Cup Slalom Champion and owner of whitewater park design firm S20 Designs, which designed and built the park “But once restrictions eased and groups under 10 were allowed, Team Colorado came back in force — especially because a bunch of older kids returned home, who helped coach.”
Helping this year’s cause was Jocelyn Coggan, who returned from school in Charlotte, NC, to return home during the pandemic and ended up coaching. “She’s been great,” says Shipley. “She grew up in the club, and helped out a lot this year.”
Aside from the kids, perhaps no one has been happier for the extra help than head coach Liam Malakoff, 27, a C-1 paddler who moved to the Front Range from Washington, D.C., three years ago.
“A few kids were seniors and graduated, but stuck around and coached because of COVID,” says Malakoff, crediting Hunter Keeley as another graduate donning the coaching cap. “We’ve also had some who retuned home due to the pandemic and have been helping out. So it’s been great.”
With the help of Coggan, Malakoff and others, Shipley even hosted several “summer camps” this year, with paddlers meeting in his back yard in groups of four and then walking over to the river. “They went in as guppies, and came away as pretty good paddlers,” he says, adding that Luca Bahn even went on to race this year’s FIBArk downriver race, postponed until August, at the ripe age of 12.
Founded by former slalom paddler Nate Lord, Team Colorado historically has kept kids paddling slalom throughout the summer after participating in it through the nearby Dawson School, whose slalom program only lasts through the school year.
And they, and their parents, are eager for the continued practice and coaching, especially later in the summer when other area waterways dry up. “We have about a 100-yard section of river where the Big Thompson Ditch comes in, which adds about 175 cfs to the course for a short stretch before the water gets diverted again, so it works out great,” says Shipley.
Like the waterway, the club has seen its ups and downs in terns of participants. Before the torrential floods of 2013 that destroyed the course, the club had up to 40 kids, Shipley says. But the course was wiped out for about four years before the city and S20 Designs rebuilt it, during which time “it lost some of is continuity.”
Now, as an unexpected consequence of COVID, it’s growing again. “Because of the pandemic, a lot of the older kids have returned home, and they’ve started paddling it again and coaching some of the younger kids,” says Shipley.
So many enrolled this year that organizers even rolled out an event they called the Quarantine Cup. Coaches created a course , posted it on FaceBook, and then let kids come out and paddle it with someone recording their time. With kids ranging in age from 9 to 16, this year’s Quarantine Cup winner was Kartik Raghavan.
“He’s a great paddler and loves it,” says Malakoff, hopping in his boat at the top of the course for another afternoon of coaching. “And this is a great place for them all to be able to practice.”