This is the Fourth Annual New England Triple Crown. The brainchild of Olympic Bronze medalist Jamie McEwan and the hard work of Andy Kuhlberg and a large group of local volunteers. it is a one of a kind event. A competition that combines three different kayak disciplines into one overall competition. Wildwater (downriver racing), Slalom, and Freestyle. Rarely do you get all three groups of paddlers in one spot, nevermind competing against each other. Racers have an advantage in that there are two races and one freestyle competition. However, the depth of field in freestyle tends to be bigger so the racers tend to place lower in the freestyle then the freestyle paddlers do in the races.
The competition takes place in Tarrifville, Connecticut, in the southern part of New England just outside of Hartford on the Farmington River. The Farmington River has been the host to slalom and downriver racing since the 60’s and continued through the early 90’s but then it stopped as many of the spring races moved south and the althetes followed the races south as well.
Jamie is bringing something special back to this historic river in USA paddling history and his team, lead by Andy is really doing an awesome job wiht this unique event, making it a “must do” for the Jackson family and team.
The format of the race consists of two days of competition. The first day is 100% open and is a qualifier for the second day. The race starts with a competitors meeting at the put-in of the wildwater race at the “mill” where there are hot showers, bathrooms, and John Connoly (another historic figure in New England- formerly the owner of Eastern River Rafting company on the Kenebec and Penobscot Rivers) brought his own brand of coffee for the competitors to warm up and wake up to (Adventurous Joe). The meeting was a 8am both days. The first wildwater racer started at 9:15 am for the 4 minute class 2-3 race in wildwater boats.
Since most paddlers don’t own wildwater boats, sharing of boats is not only allowed, it is pretty much required. This makes the race both competitive and fair. You can’t beat a Wave Hopper with a slalom boat and you can’t beat a wildwater boat with a Wave Hopper, so the organizers made sure that the top paddlers on Sunday could share the same design or similar design to keep the race fair.
Racing 4 minutes doesn’t seem like a long race, but that truly depends on how hard you go. It can be a pleasant paddle, a hard but not painful paddle, or a super hard paddle that takes hours to recover from. Each paddler sharing a boat had to race and then walk up a steep hill to the road to get their boat back up for the next paddler to race in it. Danny Stock brought a Wave Hopper and Mark brought one for people to borrow. While there were glass wildwater boats to borrow, we agreed to race Wavehoppers to prevent stressing about breaking a borrowed boat. Mark, who paddled his composite wildwater boat with wing bladed paddles took first place in the wildwater as expected. Elaine Cambell had her own wildwater boat, so Emily borrowed a composite one to be competitive.
The top racers in the first day were: Mark 4:01, EJ 4:02, Nick 4:11, Danny 4:12…
After the wildwater race was over, at 10:00am, the slalom race started at 10:15! No rest, just keep going! The slalom race is 2 runs on a 100 second course, with the best run counting. The course is on a natural river which is very refreshing as it seems most slalom races are on artificial courses. The difference is quite apparent on your first run as you find shalow spots, random rocks in eddys and much more character to the whitewater. They set some great moves with a ocuple of cool downs on the same wire, a hold surf to an upstream, and a hard S Turn and a dive gate into a big ferry at the finish line.
I “won” the first day, but only because they lost Danny’s time and he decided not to do a re-run. His second run was likely faster than mine, but we’ll never know. It was a qualifier and Danny knew he was going to qualifiy either way. Nick Troutman got third and then Austin and then Dave Fusilli.
Emily won the qualifier followed by Rachael Thomas and then Courney Kerin and then Elaine Cambell.
After the slalom there was a 30 minute lunch break and then the freestyle started. The freestyle hole is quite good. You can do every move in it. It does have a shallow spot and a flushy spot to make it interesting. in the qualfiier Nick won, followed by Dave Fusilli and then me. Dave was quite fired up and had a great competition. Nick as well. I had two rides that missed big moves on both of them. Jordon Poffenburger got a higher score in his C1 with some awesome rides!
Emily did what she does best and dominated the freestyle event, putting up scores that were rivaling the boys. Courtney got second and then Elaine and then Rachael.
During the event a new friend of mine, Michael Gross, who is a full time writer for Vanity Fair as well as is working on a book about Waterfalls came to meet in person for the first time. I am going to teach him to kayak and get him up to waterfall running skill levels. I taught him his first lesson after the event and he did awesome!
Tired and ready for bed we organized our gear and hit the sack at 10pm for the big event the next day, where each race will count towards the “triple crown”. The top 10 men and the top 4 women made the finals.
Each event starts at 30 points for 1st place, then 28 points for second, then 27 points for third and 26 for fourth, etc… You get a 1 point extra bonus for winning, which really puts a premium on getting at least one win if you want to win overall.
Sunday morning started off the same as Saturday- 8am competitors meeting, but only 14 competitors this time. I started the wildwater race last on Saturday, and would start first on Sunday. My time was a 4:02 and while Danny was a 4:12 I knew he was sandbagging and his physical conditioning, his forward stroke, water reading ability, and competitive drive (even though he will tell you he doesn’t have one) is a winning combination. Nick was also going to be fast, but doesn’t have the same training experience for this type of race or boat. His strokes are super fast and move the boat well, but are not as efficient and 4 minutes is too long to race inefficiently and not slow down more than somebody with similar conditioning and more efficient strokes.
I took off with an all out 100% sprint to get the boat up to speed on the mark “Go” and chose the right line along the bank and under a tree which was in slower water but shorter line. I settled into a fast, but not sprinting pace and really tried to keep my boat on the fastest line in each spot. I chose poorly going left of a hole and eddy and it got me too far left into a maze of slow water, holes, and rocks that I attempted to overcome by sprnting to make up for my mistake. I did put me in the next bigger rapid in a good spot next to the bridge abutments and i sailed out of that rapid and only hit a few waves head on. At that point I could see the slalom course and picked up the pace again, driving fast through the next flat section and entering the main rapid on the left and focusing on keeping my boat running on the fast water and not hitting the big play hole at the bottom. Two more rapids where a small mistake could mean eddying out and losing but I kept it running and was now sprinting with everything I had left. My vision was blurry and I was fully lactic when I crossed the finish line. They yelled out my time “3′-57″” which was 5 seconds faster than yesterday! I knew I had a good shot at winning this race. I got my boat up the hill and was so nausious during the climb that I really didn’t make it very fast. Mary ran my shuttle and got the boat to the put in for Danny to use it next. Danny took off twice as fast as yesterday and it was clear that he was sandbagging on Saturday. I waited for his return because Nick was the last to use the Wavehopper. Danny pulled up 15 minutes later, looking tired and I asked him if he got a time… 3′ 55″! Danny beat me by 2 seconds. OK, so Danny is now in the lead… Nick’s turn… (Danny and I were currently in 1st and 2nd with only Nick left.) Nick raced away in a full sprint and we commented that we didn’t think he would be going that fast at the end, but who knows. Nick came in a 4′ 6 seconds in third place.
Emily ran a super fast race at 4’12” winning for the ladies, then Elaine, Courtney and then Rachel.
So the scores were Danny 30, EJ 28, Nick 27, Austin 26, Dave 25, and so on…
Slalom started right on time at 10:15. I did my first run and was paddling really well until gate 14 which I got subbed out in a curler and pushed low for the S-Turn Gate and hit it on the exit. I still had a 100.3 plus 2 for a 102, which was stiill two seconds better than my 1:04 clean yesterday. Danny ran down while i was watching and welking up and had a great run and clean, a 99.8. Wow much faster than yesterday.
I got fired up to try to beat Danny’s run as getting second again would really hurt my chances of winning overall. I started off fast, accelerated in the middle and sprinted to the finish and nailed most of the moves really well and really felt like I was a slalom racer. My time was a 98.63 clean. I felt, again, that I had a chance of winning this event, like I did for wildwater. Nick was around 110 and in third. I delivered my boat for Nick to use and watched Danny’s second run. He knew my time and was clearly going all out. Every move looked perfect except a head butt on gate 7. His time came up… 98.63!! A tie to the .01 seconds for the win?! Crazy. how do you get a tie to the .01 seconds. His raw time was 96.63 plus two a second pentalty. The organizers decided to split the 1st and 2nd place points so we each got 29 points. Nick was third with 27 points.
The scores were now 59 for Danny, 57 for me, 54 for Nick, and then down from there.
Emily won her second event, and rachal was second and Elaine was third and then Courtney was fourth.
Freestyle was next: I was fourth on Saturday in this event, and Nick won. If this were to happen today, either Nick or Danny would win and I would be third overall.
The day was sunny and 62 degrees. KC and Kristine were playing down by the river at the “beach”. The crowd was solid and the announcers were calling the shots. Pat,the most Irish guy you’ll meet was the main MC. Courtney, Andy, and I did some announcing as well. The ladies did their first ride and Emily’s first ride had phonix monkey’s, mcnasty, loops, cartwheels, etc.. She was solidly in the lead with scores that would have been top 4 in men.
Elaine had a good ride to get into the seond place position and then Courtney and then Rachael.
Emily got a perfect score of 90 by winning all three events. Elaine was second, Rachael third and Courtney 4th.
In men’s freestyle- it started off the best score of the first heat was 300. The top seeds for the overall went in the second heat in reverse order. Dave Fusilli went first and got a 550. Jordon Poffenberger went second and got a 400 point ride. Nick went third and got a 670 point ride taking the lead with some good moves, but missed a couple big ones.
I went next and got a 540 point ride- 10 points behind Dave and behind Nick. Danny went next with a 350 point ride, putting him, at worst in 5th place. He could still win oveerall if I got third or lower. On second rides, dave didn’t improve, but Jordon got a 670 point ride tying Nick for the lead! Nick didn’t improve on his second ride, and then niether did I! I was now in 4th place again, and if the rodeo was over I would have been 3rd overall- Danny would have won, and Nick Second. Whoa…
Third rides were full of anticipation. The crowd was full, the stakes were high. One final ride would determine the order of the top three placings. Nick needed a better score to win, I needed a better score to win, Danny would win if nothing changed.
Dave goes and his score doessn’t impove. Jordon goes and doesn’t improve and is still tied for first. Nick goes and nails his first move a righty mcnasty but flushes. He paddles back in and throws hard and fast and nails one big move after another to the final space godzilla at the buzzer. We wait for the judges to tally his score…. it seems like forever, but it was clearly the new high score….
960 points! A really good score for this hole. I was next… OK- clearly it is a moment where the ball is in my court. I havn’t had a great ride yet all weekend. could I? Would I? If I didn’t imrpove my score and my current 4th place position it would be Nick and Danny would tie at 84 points and Danny would win the tie breaker with more wins (a first and a tie for first). I hadn’t gone yet…
I waved at the crowd on my way in as I couldn’t find Kristine, who was there somewhere. My entry move went well, head dry, and I backed up and nailed my first right mcnasty. then left, then left phonix, air loop, space godzilla rigtt, then left, then a backloop, a split and went for a phonix right that was on the buzzer, but was shanked…. I came out of the hole knowing I finally had a really good ride. It was going to be close between Nick and I, I figured. Instead of announcing the scores, they held the awards immediately.
Emily, Elaine, Rachael for women…
for Men… EJ, Danny, and then Nick for men…
The winner got $1,000, then $500 and then $250.