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41st Annual Southeastern Wildwater Championships

by Roger Nott (

The GCA and the Nantahala Outdoor Center co-sponsored the 41st Annual Southeastern U. S. Wildwater Championships on Sunday morning September 27, 2009, during the NOC’s Guest Appreciation Festival on the Nantahala River. Thirteen competitors started amass from the rafting put-in just below the Duke Energy powerhouse and ran 8 miles to Finish Rock, just upstream of the NOC.

The river was high, and Chris Hipgrave’s winning K-1 time of 43 minutes, 43 seconds puts him in sixth place among all Southeasterns K-1 competitors. Faster K-1 runs have only been made by Terry White (42:04.85 - 1981), Maurizio Tognacci (42:29 - 1997), Ben Lawry (42:35 - 1998), Mike Hipsher (42:48 - 1997) and Mark Hamilton (42:53 -1989). White and Hamilton are former Olympians, and Hipsher was a wildwater world champion. J. P. Bevilaqua’s second place time of 44:06 puts him in eighth place all time.

Despite flipping in the Falls, a class IV this day, Atlanta dentist David Jones was the first K-1 Master at 46:35. Between 1973 and 2009 David competed in 17 Southeasterns Wildwater Championships and won 18 first-place medals in K-1, C-1, and C-2. He has only failed to win his class twice, winning a second place metal in 2006 and a third in 1996. He was the Fastest Kayak each year from 1974 through 1980 and also in 1992 and 2000. His record of wildwater success in the Southeasterns is rivaled only by that on C-1 paddler John Pinyerd, who has won the Charlie Patton Award 12 times between 1991 and 2008. John was out with shoulder surgery this year but seems to be recovering quickly. John was absent from this year’s race but sent his open canoe, in which Paul Cox and Allen McAdams captured the Ramone Eaton Award in 55:21.

Tom Popp has been for many years an outstanding racer and earned the Charlie Patton Award in a C-1 in 1986 and 1987. This year his three children, all juniors, competed in K-1. His daughter Hailey sped to an outstanding time of 52:34, beating her dad’s 1974 junior time of 56:06 and her younger brother Bryson and sister Selena.

The fastest female and fourth time Julie Wilson Award winner was Tierney O’Sullivan, who chalked up the fifth fastest women’s time of 48:03. Her outstanding time has only been bested by Kathy Bolyn (45:20 – 1989), Carolyn Porter (45:50 – 1997), Cathy Hearn (46:39.91 – 1996), and Mary Hipsher (47:54 – 1989).

The cruising classes were won with personal bests by new GCA Vice President Jay Manalo in K-1 and in OC-1 by me.

For the first time in 41 years the Southeasterns did not include slalom races. The GCA Board’s decision not to sponsor slalom races this year is perhaps symptomatic of an alarming decline in slalom racing in the Southeast since the cancellation of the Worlds on the Ocoee in 2001 and also generally in the U.S. In the Worlds in Spain this year we only had one national team member to qualify for the finals, Vermont native Brett Heyl, who placed seventh.

On the other hand Atlanta area paddlers did well in the Nationals in Charlotte the week after the Southeasterns. Peachtree City resident Benn Fraker won both C-2 with Scott Parsons and C-1, in which he bested the entire world champion Slovak team. Riverdale native Tad Dennis finished second in both C-1 and C-2 (with Casey Eichfeld). Atlantans Austin Crane (4th) and Jeff Larimer (7th) also raced very well in this blazing C-1 competition. Georgia Tech student Jim Wade bested all U.S. and international paddlers winning K-1 in a blistering time of 106.1 seconds.

There is hope yet for slalom in the U.S. Recently the USACK has been completely reorganized and has hired former Olympic slalom gold medalist Joe Jacobi as Executive Director with the number one goal of growing whitewater slalom and sprint throughout the country. Also 1972 Olympic medalist Jamie McEwan and former World cup champion Scott Shipley have teamed together to form the National Slalom Foundation to promote whitewater slalom participation among young people throughout the country. McEwan recently asserted, “Whitewater slalom participation in the US has not been at this low a level since 1969,” the year the GCA held its first slalom race in the Southeast.