PNW Collegiate Whitewater Fest

The Collegiate Whitewater Fest is a FREE race open to anyone who is attending high school, or college at least part time.  A group of paddlers from all around the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia flocked to the Skykomish River near Index, Washington in November for this once-a-year whitewater race. This was my first time attending the event, as I moved to the Seattle area earlier in 2017 and recently started graduate school at the University of Washington. I was ecstatic to participate in a race that was nearby and within the range of difficulty that I paddle.

I’d like to start this post off by thanking the sponsors of the Collegiate Whitewater Fest. World Kayak, Outdoor Adventures, Kayak Academy, University of Puget Sound Kayak Club, Accent Paddles, Hardcore Paddles, and more helped to shape a fun and safe experience for all the racers. They coordinated a top notch team for facilitating the race and setting up safety. The prize table was jaw-dropping, as everyone whom participated in the event walked away with a prize and podium finishers earned medals. Having the event hosted at Outdoor Adventures helped us to stay warm in the cold weather, meet paddlers from other schools, and enjoy a delicious meal after the race.

The Collegiate Whitewater Fest was set up for two different races, an intermediate race and an advanced race. The intermediate race started below the confluence of the two forks of the Skykomish River and finished above the Boulder Drop rapid. The advanced race started just above Boulder Drop rapid and finished at the Split Rock takeout. The flow was good (around 2000 cfs) and the atmosphere was filled with positive vibes. Personally, I was a bit nervous as I had only paddled on the Skykomish River a couple of times and barely knew the main line at the class IV Boulder Drop rapid. I was split on whether I should compete in the intermediate or advanced division.

I had a moment of reflection. I could be competitive in the intermediate division or I could step up to the advanced division, paddle conservatively, and complete my most challenging race yet. I opted for the latter after some encouragement from my peers. But, the race started with the most challenging whitewater rapid. As I heard the countdown “3…2…1”, I knew it was time to focus and remember that “smooth is fast”. As I accelerated from the start line, I decided to take a conservative line through the entrance rapid of Boulder Drop. I then boofed through the Ned’s Needle line and boogied through the rest of the rapid. I had made it through the most challenging part of the race and could just settle into a groove.

Several forward strokes later and I arrived at the finish line with cheers from fellow races and race facilitators. I finished in 12th and was proud of pushing myself outside my comfort zone and competing in the advanced division. I walked away with a sweet prize, a free registration to the 2017 Deception Pass Dash (a future post will be written about this). I am so glad to have attended this event and for events like these to be arranged in the Pacific Northwest. I look forward to attending the Collegiate Whitewater Fest in 2018! If you’re a college student and a paddler, check your calendar and join us next year.

I was excited to race the Collegiate Whitewater Fest in the Jackson Kayak Nirvana. While I wasn’t confident enough to try this race at full speed, I was happy to test out the Nirvana’s ability to stay pointed downstream and not spin out from eddy lines. This is where the Nirvana truly shines, as I’ve had many races in other kayaks in which I suffered a frustrating spin out on a strong eddy line. Without much effort, the Nirvana locks in, can make it through those fast lines next to eddy lines, and stay pointed downstream. It was also super easy to keep the bow up while boofing at Ned’s Needle. The boat tracked well during the fatiguing flatwater sections of the race, which is an underrated aspect of the Nirvana’s design, as there are several races that I’ve participated in and observed that feature agonizing sections of flatwater that are crucial to doing well in a race. I can now see why the Nirvana is starting to gather a lot of attention at whitewater races around the world. It’s FAST!

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