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I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd annual Middle Fork Championship in the greater Seattle area. This downriver whitewater race is hosted on the “Middle Middle” aka the middle section of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. The Middle Middle is a convenient drive from downtown Seattle, making it a premier destination for after work paddling trips and squeezing in some paddling before running errands. This river is gorgeous with beautiful blue water and a lush green forest. It’s hard to believe this magical oasis is so close to Seattle! The race started at the bottom of a rapid called A-Frame, named after an A-Frame style cabin on the hill below the rapid, and concluded after the section’s biggest rapid, House Rocks. With the pandemic keeping us all down, it was nice to get outside, engage with the paddling community, and compete in a healthy activity. I also loved that the race entry fees were donated to Diversify Whitewater, an organization doing events across the nation the grow the sport we have all come to love. Jackson Kayak also donated an Orion Cooler to the event (thank you JK!).

Middle Fork Championship 2022

It might surprise folks to hear that long boats aren’t commonly paddled in the Pacific Northwest. This came as a surprise to me, coming from the southeast U.S. in which whitewater racing is so prevalent. Races at the Green Narrows, Russell Fork, Gauley, Ocoee, and more are popular destinations for long boats. Given that the PNW has so much water flowing through its rivers, I see a huge opportunity for folks to experience of glory of paddling a long boat. I’ve had the opportunity to attend both years of the Middle Fork Championship, competing in the Jackson Kayak Karma RG both times.

Middle Fork Championship 2022

This year’s Middle Fork Championship featured 45 racers. The top 7 racers were all long boaters with the fastest time being 10 minutes, 16 seconds. I did my best to keep ahead of a blazing fast group of short boats and finished in 7th place. Hopping in a long boat allows me to experience a common stretch of whitewater in a completely different way. Instead of finding the most technical lines or surfing my way down the river, I’m studying what the water is doing and what moves will be the fastest. In my practice laps, I made plenty of blunders including drying out on rocks and spinning out on eddy lines. On race day, I was able to put together clean lines and a time I was proud of. I was especially thankful for having a skeg on the Karma RG to keep my boat straight when encountering some swirly eddy lines in the race lines. No spin-outs for me!

Orion Cooler

Racing is such a thrill! My heart started racing at the start line. Then I hear the countdown “3…2…1….GO” and off I went. Then I enter the phase of pacing myself to be fast in the flat water and pull back on the throttle a little bit during the rapids to catch my breath. The rapids have so many lines to choose from and the slightest hesitation will cause a racer to find themselves stuck on a rock, desperately clawing their way back into the current. The last sequence of rapids on the Middle-Middle is amazing (especially in a long boat). I enter the main current with a wave train and offset holes that can easily put on the brakes to a race run, spin you out, or provide a dreaded flip when your shoulders feel like Jell-o. Once through that rapid, the next one is the most exciting in my opinion. The entrance can be done by boofing a slot or navigating zig-zagging currents. I preferred the slot and when done right it feels incredible to skip my bow across the water. The bottom of the rapid is covered in small holes and threading them at full speed can be a bit tricky. Once exiting that rapid, it’s time for the grand finale. The last rapid features a splashy, large wave train alongside house-size boulders (hence the name House Rocks). The finish line involves making contact with a large boulder on river right, which the current conveniently pushes the water away from. The best option? To splat the rock and guarantee contact being made. FINISHED! …then it becomes my job to cheer on my fellow racers while standing on the finish line boulder. The positive energy on the boulder was refreshing after a tough 2 years of pandemic lockdown.

the winner!

At the conclusion of the race, we all got together at a park near one of the take-out options for the Middle-Middle. It was nice to converse with friends I hadn’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic. The race announced its winner (Jacob) but everyone was interested in who would take home the hardware (trophy). Wait, what? Doesn’t the winner get the trophy? Each year, the race honors the median racer, the Middle of the Middle-Middle (Will). Major props to a previous year racer who spent time and effort crafting a beautiful trophy!

Lastly, a big thank you to all the people who put in hard work and volunteering to make the Middle Fork Championship possible. From the race organizers, to the timers, the safety boaters, the shuttle drivers, the photographers, and even the person bringing homemade cookies to the after party, THANK YOU! The paddling community is special when we all come together. I look forward to attending the next race in 2023!