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Durango Race Weekend Wildwater/Downriver Event

Denny Adams, Events Chair-USAWildwater Committee

April 11, 2012 -- Durango, CO

Durango Colorado opened the Colorado High School Cup season with another well managed and very enjoyable set of races and training events held over a three day Easter weekend. Thirty four junior, senior and cadet level racers from Colorado, including racers from four club programs, participated in Saturday’s wildwater/downriver race. The course was a five mile class II run with several rock gardens to work through that ended with some larger and more powerful class III water at the finish in Smelter Rapid at the Durango Whitewater Park.

Despite being a season opener this was a very competitive and hard fought mass start race that featured several of our region’s (nation’s) best racers including Andy Corra, visiting former Dutch Jr. Team Racer (“hey”) Victor Van Haan, Cully Brown (a junior) , and a noticeably more fit and faster Steve Ward who has been taking his training seriously. While this was primarily a junior level race these seniors (and Cully who is right there with them) modeled a level of intensity that brought out the best in most of the field. My feeling is that the top four “A” group racers would have been competitive in any US race. Shane Siegel and Ian Wolf rounded out the group of seniors who dominated that first group. Shane came in a minute off of the relatively tight (for a long race) cluster of the top four finishers. Ian’s performance was notable as he was returning to this river and these races, this time as an assistant coach, after an 8 year layoff.

Following up these top finishers were many members of last year’s Jr Team including the C-2 teams of Gabe Machado // Will Coggin and Dave McConnell // Zach Gallop whose inter-class comparison times (adding 10 % of the top junior K-1- Cully Brown’s- time) was very impressive. Wildwater canoes, C-1s or C-2s, are seldom used on this course and most who paddle kayaks have little appreciation to the extra challenges that go into paddling the big ships. The Durango course had several tight and moderately technical sections that made up for any advantage a big boat may have (if handled correctly) in the large waves in Smelter. At five miles the course length was long enough to be well respected by the joyful sensations felt in one’s knees –especially this early in the season. In the nine years that I have been coming to Durango for these races this year’s (2) C-2 teams were the first wildwater tandems that I can recall to make it down the course under race conditions.

Past Jr Wildwater team members Spencer Huff, JP Griffith (racing in short glass due to winds on the drive over) and top female finisher Naomi Everhart each put in strong efforts with credible times. For Spencer and Naomi it was their first time in a Wildwater race on this course. For JP it was a last race there before heading off to college. JP has been racing wildwater since elementary school and will be missed. The surprise performances however came from three non Jr. team members, Tim Shimmerho, Lucia Blackmore, and Andy Hatch who provided new blood to the competitive mix and whose times were respectable despite paddling in heavier whitewater touring kayaks and wavehoppers. If a percentage over adjustment could be made for plastic these kids’ times were very credible.

Two other impressive performances came from Cub Cadets Henry Hyde and Wiley Corra who were mixing it up with adults and high school kids while still in elementary school. Henry was especially impressive for having his debut race in a long boat, a wavehopper, be held on such a long course. While some of us looked around for the Social Service van coming to take young Henry away he calmly nailed the big water at Smelter which was significantly larger and more powerful for a ten year old in a 14 foot boat than it was for the larger and older competitors. Wiley was awesome for merely being out in this race on his own at such a young age, that he was competitive for his boat class is doubly impressive.

The kudos and recognition could and should go on and on but will end by noting a couple of back of the pack efforts that went unnoticed. One was that of Bryant Lord who selflessly waited for his teammate, Larken Barron, at the first rapid after Larken had missed her forth practice roll and wet exited right as the race started. A second display of character and judgment was CRMS racer Gilda (last name ??) who swam about a mile and a half down the course. Recall that this was snowmelt cold water, that the rapids were harder as the race progressed. With over three miles to the finish she opted for the prudent and safer solution of walking to the finish along the riverside bike trail (which was busy with family traffic and safe) rather than to jump back into the river when she didn’t feel up to it. Most impressive to me was her positive attitude and her sense of self reliance when things didn’t go as planned—character attributes which in many cases are not quite as fully present in entry level racers.

It is worth noting that our race field included ten competitors with International Championship Race experience. Seventeen of the first eighteen finishers raced in glass or plastic long boats—all but six of these being junior level racers. These are impressive statistics for a race on this challenging course which at the 2007 Western Jr. Team Trials put a significant number of junior racers into the water. Those of us who have been coming to Durango for many years now with junior racers can easily see that our sport here in the rocky mountain west is growing and that our junior wildwater racers are improving.

Great thanks go out to race director Nic Borst for his time and energy spent putting on the weekends training session and two large races, all of this work and responsibility coming at a time between two extended outings to major races being held back east.

The second of our High School Cup Wildwater weekends will be the Glenwood Wildwater Jubilee weekend in Glenwood Canyon on April 21st and 22nd. These wildwater races will again serve as the Western Jr. Wildwater Team Trials but will be open to all age and boat classes. These races will include both a Classic and a Sprint event held over two days. For more information please feel free to contact me at to visit and to be put on the contact list.