Red Bull stepped up to the plate to help make an awesome extreme race right here at Rock Island. The main feature of the race is the 21 foot “spout” which is a clean waterfall just downstream of the spill gates. The setting is beautiful, the overlook crowed, the huge Red Bull arch spanning over the big drop, and the 60+competitors made this event go off. The format was 5 person head to head racing with a couple of “gates” to keep people in tight and make for a hair raising event. Two people advanced from each round until it came down to one final round for the men and women. Before it got that far there were racers getting forced to the outside of the last gate and ultimately over the drop backwards with four others right on top of them. The skill level of the racers was high enough to keep it relatively safe. Nobody ended up with a boat on their head! Although Dane was psyched to race, I didn’t let him. Being 55 pounds and only 4’ 2” tall means he is about as hard to push over as a duck. A paddle to your chest is a paddle to his face, enough said, but he was bummed.
In the final heat of women, it was Nikki Kelley, Shanna Powell, and Courtney Lynch. Nikki has the skill and speed to get ahead and stay there, and that is just what happened. This was a straight forward heat, which was nice to see after the prior women’s heats was pretty intense with racers upside down in the eddies, boats going off backwards, and blades flying everywhere.
In the men’s final heat it was me, Tommy Hilke, Sean Smith, and Jason Beakes. We all wanted pole position (which was a big deal) and the method of deciding was to pick a number from one to a hundred. I picked 90 three times and lost three times. Jason was the closest with a 12 and then Tommy and Sean was last. The start was two Red Bull Buoys and two starters with a rope over our bows. On go, the rope lifted and off we go. Just like in order we lined up, we went around the first turn like that. Unfortunately, the only way to pass in the men’s heats is to get on the inside in the last gate (20 feet above the waterfall) and slam those ahead of you to the outside. If you don’t you simply go around the last gate in last place and hope they miss the finish line (which was a hard gate below the drop) I backed off to let Sean pass me going into the last gate then hit the gas and slammed Sean and Tommy hard from the side, forcing my way inside and nearly making the pass from fourth to second, only a foot or two behind Jason. Unfortunately for me I didn’t get a good enough purchase with my paddle on the gate and Sean got his arm and paddle over my boat and did the squeeze stroke pushing me back. I still got out in front of Tommy but behind Sean and Jason. Then, after hitting the landing as good as it gets, I went for the last buoy but it was blocked by both Sean and Jason. I pushed on top of their boats but a hand came from somewhere and pushed me back off of them and out of the gate, then Tommy came in and a clearing opened up allowing him to sneak by and hit the finish line. It was a super fun race, the head to head format is awesome, and the venue was extreme enough to make people keep their eyes open and their defenses up, while safe enough to allow for some screw ups and likely get away with it.
In the future I will see about another “pole position” determining method so that it isn’t as important in the outcome of the race. It is fun, however, to not have pole position and be faster than somebody who does. In that case you must make a pass, which is very fun!
After the race, a “huckfest” was held. Simple as get to the top of the drop and try any move off it you like. My son Dane was very into this one. I taught him to freewheel at the Dam above Great Falls in July, but that was only 8 feet high. This was a 21 footer. Dane was stoked to try and nailed his first on like a pro. After watching a few rides he decided to try it a little earlier and more vertical, again nailing a perfect landing without tipping over or even needing a brace. LMV was filming along with some photographers. If anybody is willing to send me some shots I will put them up. I didn’t video or shoot.
In case you are wondering if I am wise, allowing Dane to throw freewheels of this waterfall. The answer is yes, along as I keep an eye on him, his attention to safety, and his willingness to stay well below his actual skill level. Dane can freewheel this waterfall and land properly better than most can running it in their creekboat. If not, he would not be allowed to do it. Believe me when I tell you that I don’t suggest he does it, he simply asked me if it is OK. Remember, that I didn’t let him race, that would have been dangerous.
All photos by LVM