Sunday, March 08, 2009

Fall 2008 Competition Season...

Whats up cyber paddling world!

Well I hope everyone out there has been able to get on some good water in spite of the drought conditions in the Southeastern US. Coming home from Canada at the end of the summer, I knew that I was going to be switching gears from the epic levels that were occuring up there, but I really had no idea...

This is definitely the worst drought that I have experienced in the 12 years that I've been paddling, but fortunately we still have a lot of quality dam-released rivers down here that keep you from going crazy...

The Fall '08 competition season started out well with the LVM Southeastern Giant Slalom Qualifier race on the Green. I dragged myself away from the Buseater and High Tension waves in Canada for a week, and flew into Greenville, SC two days before the competition. I had hoped for practice water on Friday, but no such luck. Oh well, I figured I'd get used to my creekboat again on my first race run of the day. (the race starts at the putin)

For those of you that don't know what the Giant Slalom is, check out the LVM site for more information and video. It's a revolutionary, very challenging style of competition that forces paddlers to not only run class V rapids, but be in control enough to make certain moves and gates in them.

Pat Keller in the downriver portion of the race.

Credit: Hannah Cole

Sealing launching in to gate #1.

Credit: Hannah Cole

John Grace and team put together a great competition, and everyone had a blast. The format of 50 second penalties for a gate miss, and 10 seconds for a touch meant that being smooth and precise is often more rewarding than just powering through with brute strength like some other races. It was inspiring watching some of the Olympic and US team slalom guys do their thing through the gates.

Myself rounding gate #2 and getting back right for the upstream around gate #3.

Credit: Hannah Cole

In the end, the Asheville locals were able to put things together against a very strong field of 60+ paddlers from throughout the Southeast, and I was honored to take the top spot at this competition. CLICK HERE for some video from the day, can't seem to find the full results.

Overall Results:
1) Chris Gragtmans
2) Pat Keller
3) Nathan Silsbee

After the Giant Slalom, and a couple of weeks back in Canada to finish off the summer, I started school back up at UNCA, and headed over to the NOC for the Freestyle Shootout competition. This was my first freestyle competition in about three years, and it was a perfect way to get back into that scene. The wave right in front of the Nantahala Outdoor Center has been constantly tweaked and changed throughout the years, but those guys had it really dialed for this competition. Almost every trick was possible on the feature, including helixes, mcnasties, loops, and phonix monkeys. The 2 minute rides kept things challenging as well, and all in all it was a super fun event that I hope will continue every year. Thanks to Daniel Dutton and all of the NOC guys for putting in the work.

Allan Young killing it.


Spencer Cooke with some wickidy wack tricks.

Credit: Scott Sidener

Myself throwing an entry kickflip.

Credit: Scott Sidener

1) Bryan Kirk
2) Tommy Yon
3) Chris Gragtmans
4) Spencer Cooke

The elite winners.

Credit: NOC

Back in the beginning of September there was a very cool head to head race at the USNWC over in Charlotte. It was an informal race with roughly 5 person heats, and with the winner of the final heat taking home a purse that everyone added 5$ to when they registered. It ended up being utter chaos as the rounds progressed, because there were raft trips on the course, and paddlers who were knocked out of the early rounds paddled in and decided to be human eight balls as we came through!

In the end Fergus Coffey came out on top, with Eric "Butter" Hurd and myself right behind him.

Check out Robin Betz's blog post for some cool photography and another perspective on the event... LL Ladies Lounge.

**This race will be occurring again this Saturday, March 14th, at 2:30 PM... hope to see all you folks out there with your game faces on!**

Following the USNWC event, I did my best to get my head on straight and turn my focus to my favourite competition of the year, the Green River Narrows Race. This time of year is always pretty intense for me, because I usually swear off drinking alcohol for a month or two, focus on eating well, and try to get my body into the best possible shape that I can for the event.

Some people criticize me and others for doing this, but I try not to make excuses about my paddling... I wouldn't be happy with myself if I wasn't training as hard as I could to reach my own athletic potential. "I would have beaten you if I had trained" is not an acceptable excuse. It's difficult to do this while being a full-time, broke college student, but that's part of what makes it fun and rewarding. This year I focused on attainments loops on the French Broad, swimming laps, doing various traditional and cross-fit workouts at the gym(my favourite is the 300 workout), and riding my mountain bike.

The Saturday before the Green Race was very cool for two reasons... it was the day of the Russell Fork Race in Kentucky, and it was also my 23rd birthday. Whooo! I rode up to the event with Chris Gallaway and Andrew Holcombe the day of, and was super stoked to race that challenging section of river for my first time. I love the atmosphere surrounding that race, the organizers are as fired up to race as any of the competitors, and with the fall colors and amazing weather, there was nowhere else that I would rather be.

The race started with the previous top 3 competitors from last year, and then Hipgrave, Pat, Holcombe, and me. I had so much nervous, excited energy at the starting line, and to be quite honest was planning on laying waste to that course... I felt great! I started my run well, but was having trouble getting into a good groove through Tower and Fist, the first big rapids. I bombed down into one of my favourite rapids, Maze, and made a couple little mistakes that kind of frustrated me a bit, but it was still all good because I had hammered through all the flats and class 2 up until that point, and still felt good about my run. I boofed into the top drop of Triple Drop, and tried to focus on scooping my bow up and over the huge exploding second hole of the rapid... rejected! The hole dropped me over to the right into the big meltdown seam of the third drop. As I came in I tried to take a left boof stroke and edge my boat upstream to try and skip over it. I succeeded in doing that, but I miscalculated with too much angle, and my long boat planed at full speed into the swirling eddy on the right. D'OHH!! I think I let out a few choice words at that point, so I apologize to the crowd on shore for that.

In the midst of some Russell Fork pushiness.

Credit: Rob Hurst

After pitoning the far wall of the eddy, spinning my boat around, and getting myself back into the flow of that big river, I had a fairly decent finish to my run. That is one of the most grueling sections of whitewater I have ever raced... lots of big rapids and boils to contend with for sure, and I was nearly ready to puke by the end of it. In spite of my frustration about catching that eddy, I was super pumped about the race, and will certainly be back every year from now on. Plus it was my birthday, how could I be pissed about anything?

1) Andrew Holcombe
2) Bryan Kirk
3) Chris Gragtmans
4) Pat Keller
5) Toby McDermott

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