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October 29, 2008

By Clay Wright

Last weekend was the high water release and the Russel Fork Rendezvous’ ‘Lord of the Fork’ race through beautiful Breaks Interstate Park. The leaves were blowing in the breeze and flowing down the river with over 50 racers – it was the biggest turnout on record with some of the most impressive times to date. The recent move from the first weekend to this last weekend of the season does come with some colder temperatures, but allows all racers ample time to practice (many racers finished 2 practice runs the day of the race! ) The times certainly showed it, too. While there were no Wave-hoppers this year, the records for almost every class of the event were broken due to the increased dedication and training by the best paddlers in the Southeast.

There were plenty of swims going down – even by Team paddlers – and a sketchy flip before the finish by the winner just to remind everyone that rushing through the Russel Fork is no cakewalk. And while long-boats have always dominated the scene in open-class races, the newer designs allowed more paddlers to navigate the rapids fast and clean than ever before. I had my fasted race time ever and a super-clean run but only ended up placing 8th? Shows there was some stout competition. I’ll let the results speak for themselves and you’ll have to check the website for photos as my camera fritzed out – sorry to all. Photos I wish I had…

A certain JK paddler practicing freestyle at Tower in a long boat. Pitons from people who ended up going right at Climax at the last minute. The afternoon sun and leaves falling in the air at Tower Falls. The ridge-top mountain bike trails at Breaks Interstate Park. The ‘Black Box’ boof.

Next up is Green Race – the most anticipated race of the season and also the most challenging. This year the stakes have been raised quite a bit by the drought – yes low water can actually make this race harder! While the holes aren’t as sticky and there is a lot less ‘push’ on the course, there are new little screw-up rocks all between the major rapids and less water between the rocks in every slot. Yet the biggest problem with racing the Green at low water is .. well .. Gorilla.

Sure Gorilla is hard at any level, but at the 6.5” level we enjoyed today (the best we can hope for) the ‘notch’ falls further and the actual ‘Launching Pad’ – the lip of the big drop – is higher than the water just upstream of it and curling towards the right wall. So instead of easily carrying speed into a beautiful ‘don’t boof too hard’ rolling lip, racer must charge down into the trough then power up onto the ‘pad’ before getting another speed stroke and whatever ‘boof’ they can manage from there. All while aiming to drift a bit right – where the deeper landing lies – but not allowing the pad’s curl to send them too far right into the right bank’s protruding ‘rainshower’ half way down! I won’t say it’s a crap-shoot, or excessively dangerous … but I will say that paddlers must work much harder and have more skill to have half as soft a landing as usual.

Today I got a bit too vertical – lost too much speed after the notch and didn’t quite get the boof I was expecting. As I passed through the rainshower I thought ‘I’m glad I’m in the right spot’ just before my bow hit the bottom and I pitched onto my head for the remainder of the flume. Thanks to my FNA full-face, my elbow-pads, and some luck all I got was some helmet scratches, sore knuckles and some additional respect for this rapid, and especially this race year. To those about to race: lets get this thing right! Next practice day is Friday and I for one will be bringing some heat up onto that Pad in hopes of launching out a bit further on the landing…

Clay Wright