The North Fork Championship lived up to the hype, becoming one of the wildest whitewater kayaking events to ever happen.
For those of you that haven’t heard, the North Fork Championship (NFC) is a first year event on the Payette River. Friday’s event takes place on the lower three miles of the North Fork Payette, and is the qualifier race for Saturday’s race. Saturday’s event happens upstream at the infamous Jacob’s Ladder rapid and only the top five from Friday’s Race plus 30 of the world’s best kayakers invited by application process are allowed to compete in this giant slalom type race.
Although I’ve been kayaking a lot this season, I hadn’t thought much about entering the NFC. But in the days leading up to it, I was training with some of the athletes and feeling pretty strong and fast. Friday after noon, I put my name on a list hoping to get a spot despite being a late registrant. Although I felt confident about racing, I wasn’t in top shape. The night before Boise’s Egyptian Theatre hosted a kayaking movie party that brought out hundreds of folks. An after party ensued and I stayed up a bit late.
Friday’s race had 52 paddlers going down in one minute intervals. Knowing that I would make up or lose most of my time in the flat water, I chose the Zen 75 as my boat. Although there isn’t a ton of flats, I bombed through it as expected in this swift kayak. Through the run, I felt as though my lines were nearly flawless while my strength was unfortunately not quite up to par. I finished hoping for a respectable result. The fastest times were over 15 minutes, and first place was in a Prijon Tornado (old school, 12 foot kayak.) Third place was JK paddler Zach Fraysier which got him into Saturday’s race!!! He paddled the Zen 75 almost twenty seconds faster than I could. But I did alright, in a four-way tie for 15th place with event organizer James Byrd, local Ian McClaren, and young JK team member Alec Voorhees also paddling the Zen. I wanted to beat fifteen year old Alec by a little bit because I can’t touch his playboating right now. It’s only a matter of time until I can’t touch him at racing. If you’re reading this Alec, you rock!
Also, my good friend Tomas Wilkening took seventh in the Villain, just barely missing the cut for the next day’s race. Tren Long took an unofficial lap in the same boat and finished three seconds behind. The competition was stacked, and it’s worth peeking at the results and the whole website at www.NorthForkChampionship.com
Saturday started with rain which didn’t help the already very extreme nature of what was about to happen. Long before the start time of noon, a few hundred people were littered up and down Jacob’s Ladder rapid creating a coliseum of people that did not want to miss this event. Some kayakers braved the ferry across the river to watch, shoot media, and set safety from the other side. Spectators had to be careful too, as it would be easy to fall into a class 5+ rapid if you weren’t careful. I’m pretty sure everybody that was there was kind of scared to watch what was about to happen. Even the most well-known of athletes appeared obviously nervous.
The race itself started with a twenty foot ramp that dropped into the lip of Jacob’s Ladder. Descending the ramp was certain commitment to an extremely difficult and dangerous rapid that these athletes were choosing to do in this race. Charging into the rapid, paddlers had to try to stay upright and off the right bank at Rodeo Hole, navigate into an eddy and hit an upstream gate at Rock drop, surf out and get right of a gate above Taffy Puller, and then make moves at three other gates throughout Golf Course. Hitting a gate would be a five second penalty, while missing a gate would cost you fifty seconds. Two runs, but only your best one counts.
When it was all done, paddlers and spectators took a collective sigh of relief. Two swims not far from the right bank accompanied with perfect throw bag tosses, plus a couple of aborted runs due to being “right-banked” into a rocky crack kept everybody from getting too comfortable. Safety by Cascade Raft Company appeared infallible and the whitewater portion of the event had finished with great success. A “stoke float” down to Banks with lots of great paddlers followed the race. At the end of the night, the best possible result was announced – a local won.
Third place was Mikkel St. Jean Duncan, second place was Tyler Bradt (even though he aborted one of his two runs) and in first place was Idaho super nice tall guy, Ryan Casey. If you don’t know Ryan, he is certainly one of the favorites and deserves this win as much as anybody. This win grants him a spot into the 2012 Grand Prix!
An after party at the Dirty Shame Saloon in Crouch, Idaho of epic proportions capped off an amazing event.
These awesome photos were shot by Boise photographer John Webster. Be sure and check his blog for some of his best photos from the North Fork Championship at http://thejohnwebster.tumblr.com