May 10, 2004 -- Bryson City, NC
Every now and then you attend an event that is both energizing and exciting, reaffirming your commitment to racing canoes or
kayaks while also encouraging you that river racing is alive and well in this country. For me it happens every year on the first
weekend in May on the Mississippi River in Memphis TN.
For 23 years now Joe Royer and his team at Outdoors Inc, a western Tennessee based outdoor store, has run what is now the nations
largest and longest running downriver race on the Mississippi River. The Mississippi
is the largest river in the country and is about a mile wide in Memphis, running at hundreds of thousands of CFS with very strong
currents, powerful eddies and unbelievable boils. Spring winds can often compound river conditions. The race starts at the mouth
of the Wolf River and takes you just over 3 miles downstream on the Mississippi, under the massive I-40 bridge, past the famous
Mud Island Park to the finish in historic Memphis harbor. Best of all, the race is a mass start event, that includes canoes,
kayaks and just about anything that floats and can include up to 500 people ... yes that's five hundred racers. The race is
the only event on the entire length of the Mississippi that requires the coast guard to shut down the river to other traffic. The race
also coincides with the annual Memphis in May music festival, so once you have completed the race you can literally walk down
to Beale Street and party!
The course record is held by the USA's most decorated Olympic paddler, Greg Barton in an impressive 15 minutes 39 seconds.
Living in Seattle, Barton has two Olympic Golds and two Olympic Bronze medals to
his credit. The 2004 start list included the deepest field of international paddling superstars ever. Along side Greg Barton,
you found Olympian and 9 time surf ski World Champion Oscar Chalupsky and his equally talented brother Herman all the way from South
Africa. You also found Olympian Mike Herbert from Rogers Arkansas, a Pan Am Gold Medalist, along with many more extremely talented
paddlers and racers, many of them racers of local or regional renown. When the start gun goes off, the mouth of the Wolf River
turns into a class 3 rapid as paddlers sprint into the Mississippi and the inevitable break for the lead. Given the conditions, ruddered
boats like surf skis and sprint boats are the way to go, but downriver boats also work.
The 2004 race was exciting as ever. After a very fast start and a tight pack,
the lead splintered into two groups, with the lead group of Barton, Herman Chalupsky and Mike Herbert and a second group of Oscar
Chalupsky, Scott Collins and Chris Hipgrave. Group tactics where awesome. Barton dove left above the I-40 bridge to try and drop
the rest of his group, but they reacted instantly and got back on his wake. In the second group, Oscar Chalupsky surged ahead
at about the same point to try and open up some distance before making the turn into the harbor, but at 250lbs or so, his wake
was solid and easy to find and he never got too far. Approaching the finish an all out sprint developed with Herman Chalupsky beating
Barton by less than a quarter boat length with Herbert close on his heals. On entering the harbor Scott Collins cranked up the
pace in his K1 to sprint ahead of Oscar Chalupsky leaving the both of us unable to respond. Scott confidently took fourth, Oscar
Chalupsky fifth and Hipgrave about a boat length behind in sixth. Behind us were another 500 equally interesting races developing
as the remaining competitors surged across the line.
For pictures and complete results from the 2004 event go to www.outdoorsinc.com and mark your calendars for the 2005 event.
It's a spectacle in downriver racing that you should all experience.
Chris Hipgrave is Tresurer of the U.S. Wildwater Committee and a K-1
Wildwater racer living near Bryson City, NC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.