Reno Riverfest is BACK!

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It’s been just about 10 years since my first Reno River Festival.  I remember being blown away by the professionalism of the organization, the huge competitive rides, the prize money, and feeling for the first time as though I was a part of a legitimate sport.  Thousands of spectators screamed and gasped as kayakers flipped their way onto the podium.  Professional announcing kept the crowds engaged in the drama of the competition.  It was a huge event for me, and got me hooked on competitive freestyle kayaking.

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Over the past few years, this event has dwindled in size as low water forced the organizers to move to a smaller less spectator-friendly hole, and even completely cancel the even in 2015.  For 2016, the USA Freestyle Kayaking Committee decided to bring the USA National Championships back to the West Coast, and Reno was the #1 choice for where to hold it.  This year’s event was pure gold: fantastic water levels, thousands of people attending the festival and watching, great weather (especially on Sunday), slalom and boater X races, good organization, athletes from all over North America, and a great competition.

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Starting with the Juniors, we had lots of young and talented kayakers showing us how it was done.  Reno  local Cameron O’Conner took the 3rd place spot after working hard all week to get his big air McNasty and other new spectacular tricks.  Missoula’s Kaito Roemer led finals until the last ride, but consistently hit fast-moving, explosive moves and finished 2nd.  The new US National Jr. Champ was none other than Idaho-native Hayden Voorhees, who comes from a strong kayaking family.  Hayden simply had more tricks than any of the other guys in his class–he could do many of the hardest tricks both directions, and showed his skill to take the win.

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In the Women’s class, Emily Jackson lead that pack in every round to take another National Title.  She combined technical paddling with aerial tricks to hit her ride like a well-oiled machine every time.  Reno local kayaker Jessica Yurtinus flew into 2nd place with huge air every ride.  She didn’t go for the most technically challenging moves, but hit her best moves every time with air and huge bonusus, and competed very intelligently.  Erin Clancey from Idaho took the 3rd place spot, narrowly besting Candian/Reno paddler Ruth Ebens (formerly Gordon).  Erin hit some of the biggest air of the event among other harder moves and was exciting to watch.


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The Men’s competition was a showcase of “combo” moves and huge air.  Reno’s “#3” competition hole is retentive and allows athletes to do any trick both directions.  In the 5th and 4th place spots, Reno paddler Scott Sady showed just how far he’s come in 5 years of kayaking, while 55 year-old Jud Keiser from Spokane, Washington dominated this spot with grace and power.  Reno’s own Jason Craig has won this event before, and certainly could have repeated victory this year.  Unfortunately he had some shoulder issues preventing him from practicing, but still managed spectacular air and combos to score 1143 points in finals.  Canadian Nick Troutman (while not allowed to have a US rank) flew into second place with a massive score of 1460 points.  He moved faster than any other competitor and sped from trick to trick.   In the end, I managed to pull out the highest scoring ride of the event in finals with a 1616.  I was stoked to hit my tricks solidly and with air to pull out a ridiculously fun ride!  4 combo moves, a trophy move, and a few other stand-alone tricks put this one away for me.

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The takeaway from this event is that Reno is BACK.  Likely the biggest crowds in whitewater kayaking competition make the energy here unlike anywhere else in the world.  All classes of paddlers hit the hardest tricks on the score sheet, which was awesome to see.  Personally, it was a great event for me: Winning back here where I first made my appearance at a big event 10 years ago felt incredible.  This was also my 5th time being the USA National Champion–what a nice, round number 🙂  I also spent a number of years living here in Reno, so it was really good to see and paddle with so many of my friends from around here.  LONG LIVE THE RENO RIVER FESTIVAL!!!  Thanks for all the photo, Peter Holcombe!!!

Live from Reno,

Stephen Wright



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