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I think it is safe to say that summer paddling season in Maine is at last well underway. While spring was drawn out and dry suitless paddling seemed to take forever to arrive, it finally has and those sunny warm water days are oh so sweet. A few weeks ago the summer season was jump started with one of my favorite weekends of the summer, the Maine Whitewater Championship Series’ Kennebec Race followed by Huckfest the next day.

More than a competition the race, now in its third year, is mostly a fun opportunity for a great paddling community to come together in one place on the same weekend. Though each year it is always exciting to welcome new faces who have more recently heard about the series or made it to Maine. I was so pleased that this year that we had more ladies compete in the Kennebec Race than ever before – six! My hope is to see more and more women each year. While competition my not be every paddlers cup of tea, to me it is the participation that matters. You don’t need to come out and paddle your fastest if you don’t want – you can even just go for a leisurely float. It is that fact that you were a part of the event that counts. In my book a strong woman’s showing is important if nothing else but to show up and coming lady boaters that there is a place for them in the kayaking community.

Race day brought decent though somewhat cooler weather and throughout the morning shuttles were set and practice runs were taken as reunions were had around to the registration table. The race started at noon in order to avoid the commercial raft trips that stream down the Kennebec River Gorge on your average busy summer Saturday, though one late launching company managed to conveniently dot our race course with obstacles nevertheless. The course down the Kennebec is straightforward; mostly large wave trains through the gorge section followed by flat moving water before Magic Falls, a class IV big wave rapid with one big hole to avoid at most levels. The finish line is the river right eddy at the bottom of Magic. The course is about 4 miles long if I am not mistaken, just long enough to tucker you out, while remaining an enjoyable experience. My Karma M sliced quickly and smoothly through the waves but I did not paddle quite quick enough! My roommate and great speed demon friend Becca Austin took the top of the podium for the women (in her Fun Runner!) with a time of 11:33, while my other buddy Mike McVey took the podium for the men with a time of 11:16.

Following the time trials was the mass start, my favorite of the two events primarily because of the silliness and general chaos that inevitably ensues, but also because of the group aspect of it. This course runs just the length of the gorge through the largest waves on the river finishing in Cathedral Eddy at the bottom. On this particular Saturday the power company ramped the flow up to 7500 cfs in the afternoon, which made for even better crashing, surfing and merriment as 30 boats careened down the river. Gals and guys are all thrown in the same pot for this event and fellow Jackson boater Alex Toth beat the rest of the crowd to the bottom of the gorge for the win in his Karma L.

On Sunday we dragged ourselves out of our tents following the post Kennebec Race merriments and drove up to the top of the Dead River where just above the put in Grand Falls thunders 35 or so feet over a river wide ledge. Most of the year this spot is most popular with fisherman but on this day in June it is the site of Huckfest. The day, unaffiliated with the Maine Whitewater Championship, started as one friend’s birthday gathering and has somehow become an event that now draws some unfamiliar faces, as well a decent spectator crowd. This year the flow of the Dead was lower than years past, making for narrower and bonier line options over the falls. I was slightly concerned upon arrival after seeing a couple of spectacular and uncomfortable looking aerial moves from strong paddlers. Face plants were much more frequent occurrences than years past if you were just a little off line. But upon closer inspection saw a line I liked off a flake in the middle, which I went with and worked out well for me! My Karma M flew off the lip like a dream and accelerated away quickly at the bottom making for two super fun runs!

The weekend was a great success overall and as usual ended all too quickly. But we welcomed in the summer kayaking season in Maine successfully and have enjoyed mostly warm weather and warm water since. Hurricane Arthur event drenched Maine with some mid summer high water bringing in our favorite big waves and creeks. (Sadly I missed it – Ug!) In just a couple weeks we will come together once more for the second and last installment of the Maine Whitewater Championship Series on the West Branch of the Penobscot River which will determine “The Biggest Sender” for this year. I hope to see you there!

For more info about the Maine Whitewater Championship visit:
And check out a sweet video of Huckfest from Maine Mountain Media here: