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By Clay Wright

Photos by Bryan Owen and Brad Roberts

Are you superstitious? Is 13 bad luck? Apparently not for the Green Race! In spite of the low water launch pad, limited training time, and lots of ‘out of town’ guests the 13th annual Green River Narrows Race went with a renewed positive energy vibe the race is famous for. Instead of smack-riddled competition barbs, brags, and bravado of some recent years each racer was once again concerned. Concerned for his/her own safety. Concerned for the safety of the first-time racers, And concerned for the future of the race in the event of a serious injury in front of the 400 or so spectators we knew would clamor down the hill to gather at Gorilla like sharks around the cage when there’s blood in the water.

Why is low water scarey? Gorilla: the pad and the landing. While almost every rapid on the Green is easier at these flows, the launch-pad of Gorilla – normally a smooth hump – drops into a 2′ depression before rising up into a right curler about 3′ before the slow, rolling lip of the drop. Paddlers must carry speed into this section in order to climb up the pad, hold a stroke to bust the curler, and then pull a boof stroke a second later when they reach the lip. Some are able to carry the speed from the notch and launch in one slow, held, stationary stroke while others will take 2 or 3 just on the pad. All are faced with a rough transition to a rockier landing so getting the plastic down first becomes everyone’s main concern. This year we saw several top competitors choose to spectate while many others chose running the drop only on race-day. For the out-of-town guests just learning the lines, it was clear the local’s were treating this renowned drop quite differently, thus so did we.

For my first practice run I walked the monkey, but after Rapid Transit I walked right back up, pulled all straps down tight, dropped in, and then pitoned in the Flume. While I had climbed the curl and dropped through the veil as planned I pitched more vertical than expected. Still, It was a total surprise when I heard the ‘thud’ and met the front-deck before bouncing along on my full-face and elbow pads through the shallow flume. Glad i was dressed like a gladiator! The Super-hero’s Unishock Bulkhead absorbed the initial impact, then my FNA and elbow pads took some bumps as I bounced down the flume but no pain and no injury. I didn’t know how to feel about my race confidence… while my equipment passed it’s impact testing with flying colors, I had blown a line even after a really careful scout.

When the river ran again Friday, I chose the rounder Rocker over my sleeker 05 Super Hero just to make that line easier. And the extra confidence was immediate. I charged down river and into that monkey with authority and boofed it like a Champ! …. OK that’s total BS. I felt great all the way to Chief but then a combo of nerves and traffic made hit the brakes before diving into uncertainty. Though my first and second runs found me bouncing off something beneath the landing it didn’t stop or flip me like before and I learned to wait on the boof till the other side of the pad. My other lines felt smoother too, so I chose security over speed and decided to race the 8′ Rocker this year instead of my 8’6” speedy Super-hero. And I think overall I was faster for it.

I’m sure you’ve heard the details and results of the race, if not check this. In addition, I’ve got to fill in how strangely supportive all the racers – especially the locals – had become. Once again we were all facing a challenge of uncertain result. There was more on everyone’s mind than just the clock and bragging rights, And even those most relaxed with running Gorilla had the fear of seeing one of those fresh faces coming down unconscious, as the top racers would switch to running safety and first-aid once their run was done. We all shared lines, curler strategies, and encouragement at the starting line because while we are each individual racers, top concern was for the group of competitors overall. In a way I’m thankful for the drought, for the down hydro-tube, and for so many racers dropping out of the event. By upping the risk and intimidation factor it brought many of the SE’s top paddlers together into one mission the way the first Green Races did so many years ago, and the way I hope we can keep it from now on. Can’t wait for the next high water year!

Also I was 5th, not 2nd, in the short boat class.

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The low water ‘Launch Pad’
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‘Southern Cross’ at Sunshine – Daniel Stewart’s first Leftie
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CW Charging after the Monkey