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30th Annual Nenana Whitewater Festival

by By: Tyler Dyer
jibbman2@hotmail.com
History Compiled by Kris Capps

July 28, 2006 -- Denali Park, Alaska

The Nenana Downriver Race is Alaska’s longest running annual whitewater race that sometimes draws international competition. This continuous 3.5/4 mile section of river provides continuous class III big water section that attracted over 30 competitors from across the state and the country. With a great snow pack and an unusually cool spring/summer provided great levels for the occasion. The weeklong festival featured three whitewater competitions: a downriver race, whitewater rodeo, and the first ever “slalom survivor” challenge. The featured event for the week included a kayak workshop on Thursday and Friday coached by Olympic Paddlers, Joe Jacobi and Bob Campbell, who taught new and long time Alaska boaters new tricks for efficiency on the water.

This year was no exception to another great Nenana Whitewater Festival. Surprises are never uncommon whether it involves the river or the racer. Paul Schauer was this year's winner for the K-1 Men’s class followed by Denali local Jeff Shelton and Joe Jacobi in third. Paul’s younger brother Karl Schauer was fourth. Pat Fleming was the only contender in the OC-1 class with a beautiful low brace maneuver through Rooster tail rapid.

The Nenana Whitewater Festival has had a rich history over the past 30 years. It began as an extension of a paddling class at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and became an annual summer river ritual. “I think in other areas, the boating communities evolve, mature, then disappear, and a new group rolls in,” said veteran kayaker Peter Finnoff of Fairbanks. “Here, we’re still kicking.” Finnoff helped inaugurate the first downriver race, and even talked his employer Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO) into donating $500 for medals, hot dogs and soda at the finish line. ARCO continued that support for the first six years or so. The race rarely sought official sponsorship after that. Only six boats raced the first year, but there were LOTS of spectators, as the race course runs right along the George Parks Highway, right outside Denali National Park. The race weekend became an annual gathering of Alaskans. In the 1980s, few paddlers from Outside visited here and local paddlers all learned from each other. Not many took the competition too seriously. In 1989, volunteers added a slalom race. A wildwater rodeo began in 1995. Both those events are also easy to see from shore.

Well-known Alaska kayaker Andrew Embick of Valdez started showing up in a sleek downriver racing boat. Everyone else was paddling whitewater boats – in those days Prijons, Mirages and Dancers. So the following year, Fairbanks boater John Schauer entered in an ocean kayak – something not really suited for the colliding diagonal waves of Rooster Tail rapid. He even taped a large dorsal fin to the back deck. He got knocked off course in Rooster Tail.

In the early 1980s, the downriver race changed to a LeMans-style mass start. Racers sprint to their boats form the beach, jump in and scurry off the shore, all at the same time. It’s an exciting and sometimes comical sight for spectators, wild fun for non competitive participants and a nightmare for boaters who really want to win. Such as this year, when last year’s winner Tyler Dyer who raced his downriver boat was left at the start for a minute, because he could not get in his boat and was then was wedged between a raft and the shore allowing other racers to get a good start. Tyler, however, made it from dead last to seventh place.

There are always a few folks who are very competitive, however. In past years, they sometimes became the target of practical jokes. One year, a local secretly put rocks in Andy Embick’s racing craft. It didn’t slow him down. He won handily.

One year, Chris Roach of Anchorage fell into the hole at the finish line while in second place. When he finally flushed out, he was in sixth place. Maybe that’s why he said, “The best part about these races is the end. That’s when you get to sit around and talk about it.”

For the 30th anniversary festival, volunteers have gone all out and added an educational aspect, a water safety program for kids, and national sponsorship. Kokatat is providing a dry suit to raffle off AND more importantly, providing kid-size dry suits for the new Denali Borough Water Safety Team, a group of kids who meet twice a week to learn river skills.

And yes, that is Joe Jacobi in the K-1 Class.

Downriver Race Results

Finish
Name
Location
Time
K-1
 
 
 
1
Paul Schauer
Anchorage
16.51
2
Jeff Shelton
Denali
17:11
3
Joe Jacobi
Tennessee
17:51
4
Karl Schauer
Fairbanks
17:53
5
Craig Jones
Fairbanks
18:04
6
Bob Halbeisen
Fairbanks
18:23
7
Tyler Dyer
Anchorage
18:26
8
Jim Remington
Fairbanks
18:29
9
John Schauer
Fairbanks
18:37
10
Dave Hayden
Fairbanks
18:57
11
Jim Haack
Anchorage
18:59
12
Jack Lohrenz
Healy
19:12
13
Dave DeLong
Fairbanks
19:33
14
Dave Bolton
Denali
19:50
15
John Jodwalis
Fairbanks
19:55
16
Ty Fulmer
Denali
19:57
17
Jeremy Patterson
Anchorage
20:38
18
Jon Gerkin
Fairbanks
21:52
19
Michael Freeman
Fairbanks
21:56
20
Brett Audringer
Fairbanks
22:01
21
Tom Kobylanz
Soldotna
22:16
22
Jim Bennett
Soldotna
23.50
Solo Canoe
 
 
 
1
Pat Fleming
Anchorage
22:12
Two-person Canoe
 
 
 
1
Joe Durrenberger
Mark Fedor
Denali
Willow
24:43
Rafts
 
 
 
1
Jason White
Denali Outdoor Center
22:27
2
Alaska Raft Adventures
 
22:36
3
Jeff Jones
Kenai
22:44
4
Louise Lovrich
Denali Outdoor Center
24:45
5
Coert Olmstead
Fairbanks
time not recorded

Alaska Survivor Slalom Results

Finish
Name
Location
Time
Men K-1
 
 
 
1
Karl Schauer
Fairbanks
3:17
2
Paul Schauer
Anchorage
3:20
3
Tyler Dyer
Anchorage
3:45
4
Jim Remington
Fairbanks
4:10
5
John Schauer
Fairbanks
4:48
6
John Jodwalis
Fairbanks
4:54
7
Craig Jones
Fairbanks
4:55
8
James Bagley
Oregon
4:58
9
Dave DeLong
Fairbanks
5:04
10
Dave Bolton
Denali
5:04
11
Todd Shorey
Denali
5:22
12
Andy Reynolds
Fairbanks
5:32
13
Van James
Fairbanks
5:40
14
Michael Freeman
Fairbanks
5:42
15
David Hayden
Fairbanks
6:14
16
Jeff Shelton
Denali
7:31
17
Bob Shelton
Denali
7:31
18
Jacob Remington
Fairbanks
8:49
Women K-1
 
 
 
1
Louise Lovrich
Denali
4:53
2
Christina Ackerman
Fairbanks
6:50
3
Naomi Whitty
Denali
7:03
Inflatable Kayak
 
 
 
1
Spencer Allen and Noah Schieber
Denali
6:20
2
Keelan McNulty
Scott Peters
Fairbanks
Denali
DNF
C-1
 
 
 
1
Les Graves
Fairbanks
18:13

 
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