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2011 Nationals — A Micronism for the Progress of our National Program

by Denny Adams

June 24, 2011 -- Salida, CO

It was another long and busy week at the US Nationals for Wildwater this year. During the two days of clinics and the four race series over forty long boat racers tested the mighty Arkansas River—a relatively humble stream which was pushing racer and race management sensibilities with its highest flows in almost 30 years. Class II rapids at this flow become class IV; once benign take out eddies were now places to watch out for flips, broaches with their associated lost paddles, boats, and most critically, for lost racers. While the water was within the technical paddling parameters of most of our racers the push and power of the current and the lack of recovery eddies put safety management concerns above all others.

Our event organizers had a lot of sobering concerns. The past few weeks Colorado has had several river drowning including one the week of our races just upstream on Browns Canyon in a large commercial raft party from one of the more reputable and conscientious outfitters. In Northern Colorado on a smaller and easier river a well trained and well-equipped sheriffs rescue squad member on a river board got caught up in debris while on a rescue and died in front of his peers. Ours was an event where most were focused upon winning races while others focused first and foremost upon keeping everyone attending alive. You could tell who the later were by their sleep deprived red eyes.

On the positive side in some areas these races were arguably very successful, in my opinion transcending the “Best Ever” Nationals held at the same venue two years ago. The classic race, while short and less than elite level in difficulty was very competitive and engaging. One of the most profound visual images that I took from it was that of an eddy full of our fastest racers huffing and puffing for quite a period after their run. You do not see that in slalom or rodeo and even at most of our wildwater races. The lack of harder rapids in the Nationals Classic was made up for in Sunday’s FIBArk Long Classic 23 mile race. The high flows also made for faster times despite having head winds in the later miles of the race.

Our two sprint races each enjoyed a high public view. The National Championship Sprint had a house of a few hundred spectators and was very well received by both our fellow boaters and by the non-paddlers alike. By having our race at the downtown river park we not only had spectators but as well we had announcers, color commentary, cool music in the background and amenities such as food concessions, live music, and most importantly restrooms—ones this year with plumbing.

Our Head to Head Sprint was held on the last night of the festival, right before the FIBArk festival’s most popular event (the famous Hooligan Race) and was viewed by well over a thousand spectators. While deadly serious our racers also had costumes, decorated boats, and a levity that the crowd related to. It was a real contrast to the time trials type races of the previous days. The head to heads exemplified the key components to having successful sports events—the four C’s. –Crowds, Competitiveness, Carnage, and Cuteness (not as in Cuddly but merely a “C” word for having fresh young faces). A fifth C that the Head to Head had was cash/swag. The over 800 dollars in prizes was almost as much reason for competing as the experience of taking multiple runs down the course in front of the large screaming crowd.

The most upbeat thing to report from this year’s nationals is more abstract to appreciate. It is a “broad sport” ideal that our younger racers personify. Our wildwater kid phenoms could be found mixing it up and doing well in the rodeo and at the Age Group Slalom Nationals. The most talked about Hooligan craft was from our Wildwater ranks—team Lacy. The talent exchange worked both ways. Our wildwater medal winners included a National Slalom Team Member, and one of the top steep creek racers in this region. Our racers include cross over athletes from X-C skiing, from adventure racing, from mountain biking, and surfing and from SUP (Stand Up Paddling). This broad focus approach goes along with other key program components such as better training for our racers and with putting on more and better races. When our sport has the best athletes, the best, most enjoyable to attend events, and training to compare with the Euros we will begin to reach our potential. This year’s Nationals at FIBArk were a another step in that direction.

Great thanks go out to Downriver Race Director Ed Loeffel of the FIBArk for again (8th year) hosting a great wildwater week. Ed ranks easily as amongst the hardest working, most reliable, most selfless, humble, and modest person in racing -- most who are around him do not begin to appreciate the full extent of his commitment to our sport and to his community. Thanks as well goes out to FIBArk Head Samantha Banks and the governing board for being supportive of our effort to take the Wildwater Events “Downtown” --to the venue where the people and amenities were. Likewise kudos to fearless Chairman John (Pinyerd) , to Junior Team Manager Doug Richie, and to top racers Tom Weir and Jenny Goldberg for coming up early and generously giving time to train our Junior Racers at our clinics. As in any expensive and time committing race it is essential to recognize the individuals (great folks all but too numerous to name—look at the results sheet) and the teams (NW League of Whitewater Racers, Team Popp/Chattanooga, Team Lacy, the Alexander Dawson School) who invested in this event and whose presence and positive outlook made it the success it was.

Denny Adams