Category Archives: Western USA

Downriver racing – a great family activity!

The below is a post we wrote for Jackson Kayak: http://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2017/11/08/downriver-racing-a-great-family-activity/
This is our first year being exposed to downriver races and we have to say… they are a great family activity! If you pick the right ones they are a family bonding experience with high fun factors.

Hunter Vincent – GoPro Games

We dipped our toe into the world of Downriver racing at CKS Paddlefest (Buena Vista, Colorado) in May by participating in the Race to the Grill. This is a super family friendly race that is held on a 4 mile long class II+ section of the Arkansas River referred to as the “Milk Run”. There is a group practice run on Sunday afternoon for those that are interested and then the race is held late morning on Monday of the long weekend.  It is a very laid back event with people in kayaks, canoes, tandem kayaks, rafts and SUP’s. Free shuttles are provided by River Runners so you want to a) drop your boat off at the put in to get it in line, b) drive your car down to River Runners at the finish line and c) sign up for the race / pay your $10 and then catch a ride back up to the top. Start order is based on the order that you line up in so you can choose to paddle in front of, behind or with friends and family. It was fairly low water this spring so it took us 33 minutes to do 4 miles. The race ends at “The Riverside Grill” at River Runners, one of the local rafting companies. Awards (prizes!) to follow the race and yummy food and drinks from the Grill while you are waiting.

Hunter Vincent – GoPro Games

Next up was the GoPro Games in Vail, Colorado. This was a bit more of a structured event and you need to sign up online ahead of time as many of the events at GoPro Games reach capacity. There is the famed Steep Creek Race and then there is the DownRiver Kayak Sprint race. You want the Downriver Kayak Sprint Race! It is a mixture of young kids through to seasoned pros and everything in between. This is also where you see a lot of old school long boats being pulled out of garages as people work to improve upon their times from prior years. Consider it low key competitive…This race is also 4 miles long on a class II+ section of Gore Creek, where the water is COLD as it’s fresh from the snowpack. It is faster moving than the Arkansas River so times are more in the 20 minute range. Shuttles are a bit tricky as the start location is in a residential neighbourhood and it’s an 8:30 am race start, which makes for an early start to the day. We paired up with another family so one vehicle did the paddler drop off while the other did the cheering squad and pick up at the end of the race, which is right in the village. All athletes that register for GoPro Games get a SWAG bag full of goodies (T-shirt, Hat, socks, snacks, stickers etc.), which makes just showing up a win for everyone! There is no formal awards ceremony so we chose to head off for ice-cream in the village to celebrate with friends.

Lee Vincent – Ocoee River Race

Our third race was the Ocoee River Race in eastern Tennessee. It is an 8 mile race on class III that runs from the put-in through to the last rapid on the Middle Ocoee. It is organized by the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club as a fundraiser for the Team River Runner chapter in Chattanooga. You have to be a member of TVCC to race – family memberships are only $20 and then the race itself is free. It will fill up so be sure to sign up online ahead of time. Your starting number is based on when you sign up, so earlier is better. Everyone is out for a fun time with a mixture of competitive focus – some people are out for the win and have been doing training laps for the last few weeks, others have bets in place with friends to see who can be fastest and the majority of people are here for a fun time with friends and to challenge themselves. The race is very well organized and this year they had 130 racers and 190 starting slots as over half of the people race multiple categories (long boat, short boat, duo, handpaddle, raft etc.). Depending on when your number is called there is a fair amount of stand around and wait as people are sent off in one minute intervals. The shuttle is an easy one as the road runs alongside the river and there are always people coming and going. If everyone in your group is racing try to set shuttle ahead of time so you will have your vehicle at the bottom when you are done. Race times range from 30-40 minutes, which makes it a manageable challenge for newbie racers. The hardest part of this race is dodging the commercial rafters – there is rubber everywhere! There is a family friendly awards banquet and party at Adventures Unlimited, a local rafting company, however the fun does start to wind up the longer people have been there and enjoying the free beer, so time your stay wisely.

Hunter & Lee – South East DownRiver Race at NOC

Our last race of the year was the South Eastern Downriver Race held on the 8 mile class II+ section of the Lower Nantahala River in western North Carolina. It is run by the Georgia Canoe Association and feels more like a local community race. Sign up online to help them know how many people are coming and it’s a bargain $5 per person to participate. This is a mixture of serious paddlers (they are the ones in the actual carbon downriver and slalom boats) and recreational paddlers (in long boats, short boats, duos and canoes) but the overall vibe is one of FUN. This is a lower volume river so run times are between 60 and 70 minutes, which makes for a LONG race. It was a good one to finish with as it allowed us to use all of the mental and physical skills we have developed through the other races. The Nantahala Outdoor Centre provides free shuttles after the race and there was a simple awards ceremony with medals for every class and some long standing trophy awards as well. If you still have energy left after the race then grab your play boat and spend some time throwing freestyle tricks in the hole!

Hunter being dwarfed by KarmaUL at South East DownRiver Race at NOC

The five biggest things we learned in our first year of downriver racing are:
  • Don’t be shy – give it a try and use what ever boat you have on hand (we paddled in Zen’s, Nirvana’s & KarmaUL borrowed from a friend)
  • Ask lots of questions – everyone is happy to share information on the race and their race lines
  • Be sure you know where the finish line is so you can gauge your effort (which specific bridge or turn does it end at…)
  • Just paddle… you may not be the fastest but sometimes the one that can just keep paddling wins the race
  • Challenge each other and have fun – that’s why you are out there
Check out your local paddling club and sign up for your first DownRiver Race as a family – you’ll love it!

Group photo before Race to the Grill

The Vincent family are currently  travelling throughout North America in their RV in search of great family friendly outdoor adventures and can be found on a river somewhere most days. Find more information at www.chasingthesun.ca // www.facebook.com/chasingthesunyt // www.instagram.com/chasingthesunyt
– The Vincent Family

Kelly’s Whitewater Park – a family destination

Kelly’s Whitewater Park is located in Cascade, Idaho – about 1.5 hours north of Boise. This was our 3rd stop here, and our first time coming during the “summer season”.  The first few days did not seem promising as we had big rains, cool winds and were watching snow accumulate on the local peaks out our window.

The first sunny warm day was also the same day as the North Fork Championship, held just south of Kelly’s near the town of Banks on the North Fork of the Payette River. The sun was shining, the river was pumping (running over 4000 cfs, which equals HIGH WATER) and it was a tonne of fun. We got to meet Canadian kayak legend Benny Marr, who is one heck of a nice guy, and watch Dane Jackson style a very challenging course and come away with the win for the second year in a row. If you are in the area and the race is on, be sure to make the effort to check it out. A great day for paddlers and spectators alike. Hint: Bring foam to sit on the rocks and a cooler with drinks and snacks as it’s a full day of fun.

The North Fork was at high water levels for the first full week we were there. It was fun to paddle the top wave at everything from 5,000 cfs down to 2,500 cfs over the course of a week’s time. All of our other experiences were at 1,200 cfs so this was a big change. At high water the top feature has both a juicy hole and a super green surf wave, combined together. This allows you to work on all sorts of tricks and skills.

My focus was making friends with the big foamy hole, which took a good 6 days BUT left me with another 6 days to work on my wave skills which was pretty fun. Tim tackled learning wave loops and was doing well by the second week. Hunter got so comfortable in the feature that he and Tim party surfed it together and he tackled learning how to do front and back blunts.

The one downside of living in a parking lot at the side of the river is the wildlife…Hunter found a mouse in his boat one day – luckily it was before he got in!

The middle wave at Kelly’s is a fabulous place to play for people of all levels. It isn’t really in at high water so we were happy when the levels dropped down to 2500 cfs and it came back. It’s almost river wide with eddy service on both sides and deep enough to loop if you line up with the osprey nest on the short.

The middle wave is also a great place to SUP surf and surf surf. We brought the surf boards out and had a great time figuring out the wave. We all decided that it should be classified more as a swimming activity than surfing based on the % of time actually spent standing on the board.

The middle wave is just off a large rock island, which is a 2 minute walk from the parking lot. You lug all of your various toys out there for the day and then play/rest/swap/repeat for hours on end. With warm water and warm temps it really is an ideal summer playground for families of all interests.

One of the best parts of our stop this year was being there with friends. We capped the stay off with a convoy out to the local natural hot springs. There are 2 pools that have been built that are beside a small creek with pipes running from the creek that you can use to moderate the temperatures in the pool. Bring some beverages and snacks and it’s a fabulous afternoon or evening activity.

We had a great two weeks in Cascade this year. It is a fabulous small town, with great outdoor amenities and really friendly people. There are a number of campgrounds in the area if you want more than a dirt parking lot to stay in. Can’t wait to explore more of the runs on the Payette next year. Oh – and if you happen to come across a set of keys for a Ford F350 and 5th wheel – call Tim!

 

Whitehorse Star: Hunter Vincent represents Yukon at GoPro Mountain Games

Hunter Vincent represents Yukon at GoPro Mountain Games

He’d never paddled this section of washed out class II-III whitewater,

By Marissa Tiel on June 13, 2017

He’d never paddled this section of washed out class II-III whitewater, but that didn’t stop 13-year-old Hunter Vincent from suiting up and paddling all-out for just under 20 minutes against some of the world’s best paddlers.

Last Saturday, armed with some second-hand intell about the run, a river-running kayak and his trusty fiberglass paddle, the young kayaker was off like a shot from the put-in, chasing down the paddlers in front of him during the Coors Light Down River Kayak Sprint.

One of the youngest to compete, Vincent said he was happy with his final placing – 26th out of 32 men.

With open categories, Vincent was racing the likes of Spaniard Gerd Serrasolses, Dane Jackson, Nicholas Troutman and Tad Dennis. One, an Olympian, and the rest all at the top of their game with some world champion titles.

“I paddled as hard as I could for the length of the course and tried to catch the paddlers in front of me while also trying not to be passed by others,” said Vincent in an email.

Yesterday, the family of three – mom, Lee, and dad, Tim – parked their R.V. at Kelly’s Whitewater Park in Idaho, where they’re spending some time playing on the river and discovering new runs.

This was Vincent’s first time competing at the GoPro Mountain Games, a festival of sports that takes over the mountain villages for three days to celebrate outdoor sports, art and music.

While Vincent spent his last summer in Whitehorse at the playhole upstream of the Centennial Bridge almost every day, the teen opted to compete only in the downriver sprint race.

“The freestyle hole in Vail was really pushy and levels were changing throughout the day which made it hard to get consistent with tricks,” he said.

“Right now I am a stronger downriver paddler than freestyle competitor so we decided that I would compete in downriver this year and aim to do both categories next year when I am stronger.”

The downriver run on Gore Creek was swollen with new runoff from the hot weather. While many of the features were washed away, Vincent said that you had to watch out for sweepers hanging over the side of the river.

After four miles with 129 feet of elevation loss, Vincent stopped the clock at 19 minutes, 27.64 seconds.

He finished only 2:31 behind Serrasolses, the top racer.

“I was exhausted, but also happy,” said Vincent of his finish.

He misjudged the finish and had a little gas left in the tank so he is looking forward to another shot against the big guns next year.

Though it would be easy for a young paddler to get intimidated sharing eddies with world champions and national team members, Vincent has enjoyed the experience. The GoPro Mountain Games race was just his second open competition.

In Buena Vista, Colo. he also competed against the best in the world.

“I’ve found them all to be so friendly and supportive when you say ‘hi,’ or ask for tips and suggestions,” said Vincent.

“That really helped me not be overwhelmed by competing against all these amazing top paddlers.”

Last weekend, the Vincents parked their home about 20 minutes outside of Vail.

Lee said it gave them the best of both worlds: “The busy, active games and the peaceful mountain valley.”

She said the festival was very family-oriented.

“There seemed to be kids and families competing in every sport and it’s definitely something that I would recommend for other families.”

After a marathon drive up to Idaho, the Vincents are now on tap for some play time at Kelly’s Whitewater Park and plan to run some new rivers in the area as well.

In early July, they will head back into Canada for a short while for Vincent to attend a slalom paddling camp with the Alberta team.

Beyond the camp, the family isn’t sure where they will go next, but with their home on wheels and a sense of adventure not easily dulled, they will certainly end up on a road not often travelled.

 http://www.whitehorsestar.com/Sports/hunter-vincent-represents-yukon-at-gopro-mountain-games

CKS Paddlefest and the Arkansas River basin

 

CKS Paddlefest was our first stop in Colorado and is an AMAZING family friendly festival in Buena Vista, Colorado, just west of Denver. It runs over Memorial Day Weekend and has kayaking, SUPing, mountain biking, running and climbing activities along with live music and great food. It is based out of an area called “South Main” which is a new community that is being developed right beside the Arkansas River.

At the moment there is a HUGE dirt parking lot at the south end of South Main and it filled up with well over 50 RV’s, campers, trucks and tents (photo above is from 4 days prior to the festival). It grew over the course of the week that we were there, and there were very few open spaces come festival weekend. The best part was the friendly sense of community – both kids and dogs ran free and there were no complaints or grumblings by anyone.

 

The Buena Vista Whitewater park runs over the length of 1km and has a number of different holes and waves, with something for everyone. There is a big hole at the top where the US Team trials were held, a nice SUP surf wave that most of the SUP events were based out of, the “competition hole” where the main rodeo was held and then a nice bouncy surf wave that was great fun to play on.

Hunter signed up to compete in freestyle in both K1 and C1 in the cadet class. Unfortunately there were no other cadet C1 paddlers and only 1 junior C1 paddlers so they created a C1 open category, which meant Hunter plus a junior plus 4 very senior men… like world champion senior!

I was really proud of him choosing the compete in the open category and he was inspired by what he saw these paddlers do. Needless to say, he finished 6th but it was a great learning experience.

Hunter made the finals and came 5th overall in the Cadet class for K1 and gained a lot of competition experience. He now has a great sense of what tricks he needs to learn and lots of good tips and tricks for learning them.

Because US Freestyle team trials were a few days after CKS Paddlefest, there were a lot of paddlers in town for the week prior to the festival and the week after. This meant that there was always someone to go and play at the hole with or take a run down the local river runs of the Arkansas River. It was fabulous for the parents that the kids could just grab a buddy and walk down the path to paddle.

We were also able to take advantage of the senior paddlers to learn from. Tad Dennis was very generous and gave Hunter tips and tricks for C1 rolling and Nick Troutman helped us with feedback on Hunter’s loop. The kayak community is so friendly and helpful!

We took advantage of being based in Buena Vista to also explore the southern sections of the Arkansas River like the Milk Run and Brown’s Canyon as well as the Salida Whitewater Park.

Salida is another great mountain town with a busy, active vibe. They have a great town presence right along the river and are the host of the FiBARK festival in mid June.

Our first two weeks in Colorado have been a whirlwind with something happening almost every day. We’ve also experienced every possible weather scenario and worn clothing to represent every season. We’ve barely scratched the surface for local adventures along the Arkansas water shed and look forward to coming back again next year to play some more!

Wenatchee River – Leavenworth, Washington

 

DSCN3531

The Wenatchee River is located in Washington state, between Leavenworth and Cashmere. Our friends from BC have been coming here for years so we thought it would be a great stop on our journey northwards. Lucky for us Chester decided to join us so we had a knowledgeable person to lead us down the river and around the area!

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The Wenatchee River is known for some of the best play boating in Washington State. Prime flows are between 8,000 – 12,000. We made the decision to come when the flows were sitting around 8,000 so were quite surprised to arrive on the 21st and have them well above 14,000!

wenatchee river

We paddled twice a day for 3 days and didn’t have the same flow for any run, which definitely made it more interesting. Unfortunately at flows this high most of the play features were washed out. The upside was that the wave trains were SUPER HUGE – around 10-12 feet, which certainly made cresting the wave exciting!

tim rodeo big view

Rodeo wave was one of two play features that was still in. It was pretty thrashy the first two days but once the levels dropped below 13,000 on day three it became fun and Tim had 3 play sessions in one day.

He described it as fast and bouncy and it was tough to get the smile off his face!

turkey shoot eddy

The rest of our play time was spent at a wave called Turkey Shoot. Unfortunately it was a favourite of many and at times the eddy had up to 15+ people in it. We got lucky for a few of our sessions and were the only ones there for a period of time, which was fabulous!

The water was surging a fair bit as the water level was constantly changing. This meant you had some amazing rides and some not so amazing rides when the wave would just green out and disappear. Lots of fun to surf and spin, not really strong enough for much else.

DSCN3529The best part about the Turkey Shoot wave was that it was big enough to surf and spin in our big boats as well as play boats! I was pretty excited to back surf in my Zen…

The town of Leavenworth is in the Washington State side of the Okanagan Valley and is surrounded by orchards and vineyards. The area has a history in the gold rush and as a timber town until the 1960’s when they redesigned themselves to take advantage of their location and they developed the region around the concept of a Bavarian town. It is now a top tourist destination in the Pacific North West with numerous festivals to attract people year round. We were pretty impressed with the kayaking, biking and climbing opportunities but that seems to come well behind the Bavarian charm and christmas tree ornament shops for most of the visitors.

tumwater scopingWe took the time to check out Peshastin Creek and the Tumwater Canyon while we were here. Peshastin looks like a fun little run when the water is high enough – no room for eddies so just get in, stay centre and stay upright! Tumwater Canyon was a definite NO for all of us – road scouting showed some doable lines and some really munchy holes that did not look fun. We’ll stick to watching others run it via youtube…

It was definitely a fun visit and a place we would come back to. We stayed at the KOA in Leavenworth which had good amenities and was an easy place to put in for a long river cruise day.