Competitors look at the fast-moving water

Competitors look at the fast-moving water in the Arkansas River before their canoe race over the weekend. The Wildwater and Whitewater Open Canoe Downriver National Championships attracted competitors from all over the country.

The Wildwater and Whitewater Open Canoe Downriver National Championships returned to Salida last weekend, welcoming some of the best boaters in the country with high water.

“I was very happy with the way everything went,” said Nate Lord, president of Team Colorado Whitewater Racing and race director for the national championships.

“When I originally put in the special activity use permit, I had very different race courses in mind. When the water came up so high, we had to rethink everything, but we found race courses that were fun and exciting.”

The high water also ended up being good preparation for some of the younger boaters who will be racing internationally later this summer.

“Many of the young athletes are also on the U.S. junior wildwater team and will be racing in Bosnia in July,” he said. “We needed to give them a good experience in big water.”

Developing that junior program has been a focus in recent years, he said. “Even though the water was high, we were able to work on some important skills for the junior athletes. I felt we did a good job building that base.”

Boaters came from Tennessee, Virginia, Maine, Georgia, Massachusetts, Arizona, California, the Penobscot Nation in Maine and Colorado for the championships.

Team Colorado, Lord said, “did really well.”

“Down in Durango there’s a really strong wildwater program,” Lord said. “Cully Brown and Nate Foster dominated the wildwater competition. They are outstanding.”

Foster won the men’s combined title, which included the classic (downriver) and sprint, while Californian Amanda Creek, who got started paddling at the Dawson School in Lafayette, won the women’s combined wildwater championship.

Athletes from Maine and the Penobscot Nation dominated the open canoe competitions, Lord said.

Lord also won the solo open canoe 55-plus championship to represent Colorado.

“For me the highlight was getting the kids together from all over the country and developing skills and creating friendships,” Lord said. “The kids who came out are the future of our sport. Them forging friendships and developing camaraderie and skills is the highlight.”

Lord also credited Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, FIBArk and Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center for helping the races go smoothly and safely.

“Working with AHRA and FIBArk, we shared real and very serious concerns about safety,” Lord said. “That teamwork was critical to the success of the event. We also needed safety boaters for every event, and Kate Stepan from RMOC was really important helping us get safety boaters. And Ali Gober was super, super important in coordinating everything. I can’t thank them enough.”

The competition was the fifth time Salida had hosted the open canoe nationals, while Lord said the town has also hosted the wildwater nationals “many times.”

“It’s a great river community,” Lord said about why the championships keep returning. “It’s a community that’s really supportive of the river and river recreation and river competitions. And there are so many sections that are fun to run, you can find good race venues for any skill level at any water level.”

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