After spending the winter in Sort, Spain training slalom and getting a few river runs in whenever they released water, I was looking forward to paddling on some good whitewater in the US.
Even-though the Hood River Gorge had a fairly dry winter without much rain or snowfall, the rivers were still running and it was great to get on some of my favorite sections once again.
Arriving to the US also meant that I would get to paddle all the new Kokatat custom gear that had been made especially for me during the winter. It’s awesome to choose your colors and customize your dry suit to your personal preferences, but my favorite part is being able to fully customize and tailor the suit to fit my body type; lengthen or shorten the sleeves and legs, plus adding a pocket, or switching the entry zipper… Basically creating a product that’s specifically made to fit you, which obviously translates in the water; more freedom of movement - better strokes, more comfort - more hours in your boat, and I believe all of that helps to make you a better paddler, so yes, gear is very important!
The LW race is one of the most important events in the US, especially in the PNW. Without a doubt it’s one of my favorite festivals and race courses out there; 15 minutes of continuous crystal clear class 4-5 whitewater through some of the thickest and most beautiful coastal forest I’ve seen.
Since the weather had been nice and warm that spring, I wanted to test out the new Session semi dry jacket for the race. It was a great choice as it allowed me to stay cool yet dry during the 15 minutes of the race. The lightweight fabric is really soft and flexible providing a really cool and unique feel when paddling, it doesn’t feel like you wearing it!
During the race I felt good and kept my Pyranha 9r II fast and dry over the features, taking the win with a good lead. That was another awesome LW race for the books and I’m already excited for next year, the course is so technical to piece together that it’s always an amazing challenge.
The last weekend in May is traditionally Big Fork time. Now in its 44th edition, it’s one of the oldest whitewater festivals in the US! The location is amazing; just under Glacier National Park, Big Fork is located at the shores of Flathead Lake where the Swan River empties after a mile of continuous class fun big water.
Due to the low snowfall this winter the river was running at some of the lowest flows I had seen, however the ‘Wild Mile’ is still pretty fun no matter the flow and the organizers did a great job setting up a nice challenging course for the slalom.
The events overall title is based on the Upper Slalom Race – 20 gates standard slalom with some pretty hard moves in plastic boats, a Downriver Time Trial down the Wild Mile - around 7 minutes of big water class III-IV, and a Giant Slalom down the same section with some must make moves and gates. Overall it’s a really fun weekend filled with many laps down the Wild Mile and good times with the local community. To top it off I was stoked to take my 4th overall title at the event, thank you Big Fork!
The GoPro Mountain Games Steep Creek race is held on Homestake Creek, a low volume manky creek with a few technical drops. It’s actually a very precise race since lines are tight in between rocks and it’s held at 2600m above sea level, so you definitely feel the lack of oxygen at some point while sprinting through the course.
Besides the creek race the festival has many other events and disciplines going on all around the Vail Village. Freestyle kayak, slackline, dog competitions, bouldering World Cup, SUP races, rafting, biking, running… you name it! Overall it’s a great multi-discipline event with great organization and infrastructure with something for everyone.
The NFC extreme race is without a doubt the biggest event of the season. Now in its 8th year, the event just keeps growing, becoming bigger and better each year. This year it was the Extreme Kayak World Championships so everyone was even more fired up, with the best kayakers in the world coming to compete for the title.
With a great snowpack, flows were prime for the event. Right after the GoPro Games in Colorado we rallied straight to Banks, Idaho to get a few laps on the North Fork Payette before the event started.
The event kicked off on Thursday with the Kokatat Qualifier, a downriver sprint on S Turn Rapid, where the top 40 men and 10 women would advance to the semifinals on Friday.
The North Face Semifinals head to head race cut the fields in half for Saturday’s main event Giant Slalom race through Jacob’s Ladder and Golf Course’s class V+ whitewater.
I was happy I made it into the finals and was ready to do my best down Jake’s. I had a sweet first run through Jake’s making all the gates with pretty smooth lines, but I lost quite a few seconds getting slowed down by the left curler at Taffy Puller and a few smaller holes down through Golf Course. In the end I ended up barely missing the podium in 4th place… Well, I will have to pay more attention to the smaller features next time!
All in all it’s been an awesome time paddling in the US, having fun and feeling good in the water which is most important.
Thank you Kokatat for such a warm welcome into the family, it’s been an amazing season so far and I’m looking forward to what’s to come!