White Salmon Collegiate Whitewater Festival

The follow up event to the PNW Collegiate Whitewater Fest hosted on the Skykomish River in Washington (https://jacksonkayak.com/blog/2017/12/26/pnw-collegiate-whitewater-fest/), the White Salmon Collegiate Whitewater Festival offered another free whitewater race for anyone who is attending high school or college at least part-time. The event offered an intermediate race (class II-III) from Rattlesnake through Cave Wave, and an advanced race (class III-IV) from Maytag through Waterspout.

This was another well organized event by the World Kayak, Kayak Academy, University of Puget Sound Kayak Club, and more sponsors. Plenty of volunteers participated in this event helping to get us registered, set safety, time the racers, and help with the after party. Being a newcomer to the PNW, I really appreciated being able to meet other paddlers, learn tips ’n tricks about the White Salmon River, and feel challenged by the competition.

The White Salmon River is something that I had heard about well before moving to the PNW. Most of the conversation around White Salmon seemed to be about the L Dub (Little White Salmon) or the Truss, the section of the White Salmon upstream from where we were racing. But a few of my close friends from the JK Team told me about the Middle White Salmon and described it as “the best class III in the PNW” and “nonstop smiles.” This section of whitewater offers world-class rapids for intermediate paddlers (class III-III+) and concludes with Husum Falls (class IV-V), a 12-foot drop offering huge boofs and long surf sessions. The scenery is gorgeous, the rapids are continuous, and it’s really hard to not fall in love with this river.

Preparing for the race, I was a little bit nervous. I haven’t made many treks down to White Salmon, so I didn’t have the local knowledge of how to race the river. I wanted to be fast but I remember ye olde slogan “smooth is fast”. I signed up for the advanced race and immediately started scouting the first big drop, Maytag. This was the highest level I had paddled the Middle White Salmon and the line at Maytag was a little bit different for racing versus having fun (boofing a big hole). The race line involved threading a couple of holes and keeping the boat pointed downstream without getting hung up by any of the eddy lines.

Before I knew it, I heard “3…2…1” and I was off. Maytag was only 75 feet from the start of the race, so there wasn’t much of a warm-up before the action. The line I scouted for Maytag was action-packed, but the JK Nirvana was fast and tracked really well to keep me on-line and punch through a couple of holes without losing momentum. I made it through Maytag and took a sigh of relief as I paddled downstream.

The river felt a little bit different at this increased flow and I was doing my best to find the fast lines through the rapids while minimizing the amount of rocks I made contact with. On one particular rapid, I found a really fast line on the left side of the river but it involved paddling really close to a strong eddy line. I went for it anyway! Well…as expected I got spun out by the eddy line and into the eddy. Rookie mistake! This reminded me of a similar line I took during the Ocoee River Race through the Hell Hole rapid. I shook off my frustration and accelerated back into the current.

As I approached the finish line at Waterspout, I began to realize that there was one more trick left in store for me. The most direct line to the finish line involved punching a hole that would certainly lead to a surf session. But taking the “conservative” line could be slow and lead to the extra seconds being added to my time. I opted for the “conservative” line and ended up with an average time through the final rapid and a top-10 finish in the advanced race.

After the race, we all paddled down to Husum Falls to witness the brave take on the mighty cascade. Some landed an amazing boof, some went for a surf, but we all ended up laughing and smiling as we paddled downstream to set safety for the intermediate race. After all the racing, we encouraged each other’s performances, shared stories about our paddling adventures, and enjoyed our surrounding environment. I greatly appreciate events like the PNW Collegiate Whitewater Fest and White Salmon Collegiate Whitewater Festival that bring us all together and strengthen our paddling communities! Thank you to all of those who make events like this happen!

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