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US Open - Nantahala Race Report

April 2, 2013

by Chris Osment

The US Open included a downriver race this weekend on the Nantahala. That's "downriver". I know this probably disorients some folks who have become used to paddling up then down, or paddle out to the start line so they can race back to the finish, or where the car is parked, or where there is free beer!!!. Yep. In Wildwater we race 'downriver', and it's so much fun. Althought this weekend it was more like a tough man competition. Saturday was the sprint through Pattons Run on the Nantahala. It was cold and a somewhat windy. When the air temp is 40 degrees with 15 mile an hour winds, the waves hitting you almost feel warmer than the air. Several people did longer training runs mid-day on Saturday so we got a day on the river worth of cold water and frosty temps.

I think I bested John Pinyerd by a second or two in the sprint. But, I was paddling a wavehopper kayak, and John was in C1. If we apply a bunch of convoluted math and jesticulation, it works out that John did pretty well and I, well, kept the kayak upright. Chris Hipgrave put on the race. Chris is also a fast, graceful kayaker, and he did very well, finishing ahead of all boats by a good margin.

Sunday morning showed up with ominous storm clouds and it looked as if it would keep raining all day. Hey! It's Wildwater Racing, and some of us learned a long time ago that most downriver racing takes place in rainy mountainous regions, so you just put the weather out of your mind, or, maybe we're just out of our mind....and go paddle. On the way to the start we learned that the Nantahala powerhouse had shut down, cutting off flow to the river. The race was moved to a nearby river, the Little Tennessee. The Little T course is much more demanding - that means you'd better be in shape if you want a good time. The Nantahala is not a complicated river, but, with a little bit of river running and boat handling skill it is possible to close the gap on faster but less experienced racers. The Little T is wide open. Someone with good speed and ample training can trounce, well, me!.

The water on the Little T was above normal due to the rain showers and it was fun. Chris Hipgrave motored away from the start like a quiet jet ski. Another kayaker from Asheville followed, then Pinyerd, myself and a college student from Warren Wilson chased agressively. The four of us in the chase made it look like a competitive race, though Hipgrave was waiting for us at the finish, completely cooled down and relaxed.... After the race we loaded boats and quickly changfed into dry clothes. People were complimenting one another about braving the elements and showing true grit for racing. But then to top it all off, the sun came out after and warmed up the day to a nice spring afternoon.

Oh well. As always, it was an adventure and another chance to get the adrenaline flowing. Being at the starting line and having the count down "five-four-three-two-one-go" reminds us to get out there on Tuesday afternoons, and other days, to get back into shape. The official results are listed here:

For some of you in the ACC, I recommend some conversation and discussion about doing either or both the Open Canoe Nationals June 17-18-19, or the Wildwater Nationals Sept. 4-5. Both will be on the Nantahala. Both are all comers races, even though they are designated National Championships. Open Canoe nationals will include what we call "Full Length" courses of 8 miles. Most of the eight miles is Class II whitewater. There are three days of racing and multiple classes of boat type, and solo, tandem, Male/female tandem classes, etc. Open Canoe nationals is a good group of folks and good fun.

The Wildwater Nationals will be a shorter course, and paddling a decked boat, or Wildwater boat is the focus. However, the Wildwater Nationals are going to be joined into the Freestyle World Championships at the Nantahala. Spectator crowds could be in the thousands. It's going to be exciting. The whole week of Sept 2-8 is going to be packed with events, and a festive atmosphere. As this is basically in our backyard, I hope ACC members will ask John Pinyerd, or Martin, or Phil Stafford, Bear Murphy, or myself about wildwater racing, and consider joining us in Sept.

a recovering couch potato, Chris O