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I am fortunate to have attended the 62nd Annual Salmon La Sac Whitewater Races near Roslyn, Washington. 62 years! I’m just wowed by that. This was my first time attending this event and certainly won’t be my last. The Salmon La Sac Whitewater Races are hosted on the beautiful Cle Elum River on the first full weekend in June. I have recently started to dip my toes into the slalom world with so many races hosted in the Pacific Northwest including the Salmon La Sac Whitewater Races, Cedar River Slalom Spring and Fall Races (see my previous post), Bull Run Slalom Race, and Rich Weiss Memorial Slalom Race.

The Cle Elum River is a tributary of the Yakima River. The name originates from a Northern Pacific Railway station named Clealum after the Kittitas name Tie-el-Lum meaning “swift water”. Further upstream of the slalom course, the Cle Elum River has a class IV-V section of whitewater known as China Gorge. The Cle Elum River is joined by one tributary stream, the Cooper River, which is a popular late spring / early summer snowmelt section of class IV-V whitewater. Yes, this is all in the same area! Have you booked your tickets yet for a visit?

The first race of the Salmon Lac Sac Whitewater Races was a downriver race on the Lower Cle Elum River. In this race, all types of whitewater paddle crafts were welcome but the wildwater kayaks were burning up the times. This would be a perfect race for anyone with a Karma Unlimited, Karma RG, or Dynamic Duo. The race featured a staggered start with the wildwater kayaks starting in the back. My main focus was to try and be fast enough to not be caught by them. I didn’t get caught by any of the wildwater kayaks, but I did get torched by one of my good friends in her super fast composite slalom kayak.

The next day, we all began practicing on the slalom course. Learning slalom is like learning to kayak all over again. The moves are familiar but unique, in that people make swift turns through and around gates with pivot turns. The community supporting this slalom race was kind and helpful in showing me the route through the gates and helping me to work on my technique (I’ve got a long way to go). I started trying out slalom in my Jackson Antix 2.0 on the Cedar River Slalom Course down the road from my house. Since then, I have brought a couple of slalom kayaks in addition to my Antix 2.0.

I still race my Antix 2.0 at slalom events but now I use it mostly for entering races in the hand paddling division. I was inspired by years of watching Keith Sprinkle and others race the Green River Narrows with hand paddles. I wanted to see what’s possible for me with hand paddles. My first goal was to just see if I can navigate the courses downstream without any consideration of the gates. Once I accomplished that, I started working on downstream and upstream gates to see how many I could navigate. Then I started working on paddling through them cleanly without any touches. Then my goal became trying to get a clean run, 100% of gates with no touches. In just over a year of focus on hand paddling in my Antix 2.0, I’ve been able to get clean runs on the Cedar River and Cle Elum River courses. My current goal? Trying to paddle clean and fast. I don’t expect I’ll be knocking anyone off the podium anytime soon but I’m enjoying pushing my body to see what’s possible with hand paddles. …but I do challenge any hand paddlers to join me in the hand paddling division.

I am more interested in becoming a versatile paddler than charging class V lately. The idea of being able to paddle different rivers and enter a slalom race in multiple divisions intrigues me deeply. So far I’ve competed in the composite slalom kayak, plastic kayak, hand paddles, and tandem kayak divisions. Hopefully, one of these days I’ll grow the confidence and skills to try for the open canoe division. Slalom shows me a new growth path that is challenging and requires a lot of practice, new skill growth, and refinements. I look forward to where this slalom journey will take me.

I’m thankful for competitions like the 62nd Annual Salmon La Sac Whitewater Races. Events like these help me to feel the wonderful sense of community that drew me into the sport. This competition is competitive, but it does so while maintaining a positive atmosphere in which all feel welcome and encouraged to participate and give their best. If you’re looking for a new stimulus in your river paddling, I recommend taking a look at slalom and downriver races. If you’ve got a buddy or family member crazy enough to join you in this adventure, hop in a Dynamic Duo and go have some fun together.