FIBArk’s downriver racers took on a new course this year, starting in Hecla Junction and rowing 14 miles to the finish in downtown Salida.

Cully Brown of Durango won FIBArk’s first Heavy Half, besting fellow Durango resident and five-time FIBArk downriver winner Mike Freeburn.

The new route featured some big rapids at Twin Falls and Seidel’s Suckhole near the start and Class 2 water after that, compared to the old route that started with easier water and then finished with the course’s most challenging rapids.

“It was way cool to finish in town; it felt like we were part of the festival,” said Joel McBride, this year’s commodore and kayak competitor. “I thought it was a really nice change.”

“It started really big and really fast,” Brown said about the course, adding that not everyone was ready for the rapids right away. He said the key for him was being “conservative at the start” to get safely through the rapids, and then he “put on the gas as the river got mellower.”

Brown and Freeburn pulled away from the other racers and duked it out for the lead.

“We went back and forth for most of the race,” Brown said. He said he slowly pulled away from Freeburn after about two-thirds of the race and then “battled at the end.”

Brown won the 14-mile race in 59 minutes, 8 seconds. Freeburn finished in second place 31 seconds later.

“It feels good,” Brown said. “In Durango, this is (considered) a classic whitewater race.”

Nate Foster, the youngest competitor at age 17, finished third in 1:00:23, followed by Nelson Oldham (1:00:30), Andy Corra (1:00:56) and McBride in sixth (1:08:27).

“To be able to go out and paddle in the race with Andy Corra and Mike Freeburn is like getting on stage and playing with Eric Clapton,” McBride said, noting that those two competitors usually win the race.

Eleanor Haring won the women’s division in 1:12:44. Hannah Bradbury crossed second about six minutes later.

“It was fun having the rapids at the top instead of at the bottom,” Haring said. “It got the adrenaline going right away.”

She said she let some of the boats get ahead of her because she didn’t want to get stacked up in Seidel’s and then sped up after that. “You could always go faster, but it was fun,” she said.

In the stand-up paddleboard downriver race, which started at Stone Bridge and finished 10 miles later in Salida, the top five competitors all finished within one minute of each other.

Boulder’s Spencer Lacy, who had a trio of second-place finishes at FIBArk, got over the hump and finished first in 49:24. Bradley Hilton finished second in 49:40, followed by Sho (49:43) and local teenager Miles Harvey in fourth (49:45).

Japan’s Yuka Sato won the women’s SUP race in 51:41.

In the intermediate, 10-mile race, Charlie Sutcliffe finished first in 44:49 and Lisa Adams finished second in 49:16.

Three teams competed in the 14-mile raft race. Matt Norfleet’s squad finished almost seven minutes ahead of the next team to win in 1:11:29.

The new distance, down from 26 miles, got mixed reviews.

McBride said he liked it because he could paddle hard the whole way.

Brown, however, said he thought the 26-mile distance was a classic. “Maybe if we put in at Browns (Canyon) next year it would be at the standard I think it should be at,” he said.

Brown also said he was happy with his race. “Everyone I paddled with, we all know each other,” he said. “We’re all competitive, but it’s more friendly and supportive.”

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