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2017 Beaver River Rendezvous Recap

Whitewater, racing, and bonfires start off the fall dam-release season in New York

The Beaver River has a long-standing tradition of gathering friends and delivering whitewater fun. In the 1999 May/June issue of American Whitewater, releases on the Class III-IV Taylorville section, Class IV+ Moshier section, and the Class V Eagle section were announced, and for the first time, paddlers assembled on the banks of the Beaver River during Labor Day weekend. The Beaver River Rendezvous was born! Though the boats, names of rapids (anyone know where "Splatter Platter" is?), and style of paddling has changed, the purpose remains the same: To join good friends in the celebration of some of New York's best whitewater.

Last weekend, the 2017 Beaver River Rendezvous kicked off the fall dam release circuit with style. For the third consecutive year, Kenny Unser has coordinated with local landowners to establish a festival grounds on the shore of the Taylorville Reservoir. Whether compelled to experience the epic bonfire, attempt to wrest the Whitewater King of New York (KONY) crown from repeat King Geoff Calhoun, or just see what the fuss is about, nearly 400 paddlers from all over North America descended upon rural northern New York for a weekend that won't soon be forgotten.

Race organizer Kenny Unser leads the racer meeting shortly before the start of the Raquette Race. Photo: Eric Adsit

Early arrivals to the region were treated with perfect playboating flows on the nearby Black River, or low-water creeking on the first four rapids of the Bottom Moose. Saturday marked the first official events of #Beaverfest, with the Class V Raquette Race in Colton, N.Y., and an all-women's “Babes on the Beaver” paddle on the Class III-IV Taylorville section near Croghan, N.Y., which presented a rare opportunity for a group of women to experience the river on their own terms, as well as build connections on the river. Pat Keller showed a strong hand at the Raquette Race, the first race in the King of New York points series, taking first with a time of 5 minutes, 46 seconds, only 5 seconds off the course record. Quebec’s Billy Thibault took a close second at 5:49, and mid-Atlantic dark horse Wyatt Hyndman took third at 5:54.

A racer rockets into one of the many crux moves on Colton Falls, the first major rapid in the Raquette Race. Photo Eric Adsit

Saturday evening, the festival grounds came to life with the ooohs, ahhhs, and laughter of friends rehashing their triumphs and beatdowns from their day on the river. A sea of tents spread out across the field and slowly a circle formed around the bonfire, the flames of which seemed to grow in direct proportion to the atmosphere of revelry. Even as the rain began to fall, the flames continued to reach for the night sky in what Keller considers the “best weekend event in the country."

The following morning, just about everyone made their way (sometimes stumblingly, with dark shades on) through the dim and misty dirt roads to the Moshier section. Officially releasing for only four hours each year, Moshier Falls is among the most coveted rapids in the Northeast. Sure, the monstrous spillway above the put-in draws its fair share of adrenaline junkies, and the first rapid is one of the best waterfalls to learn to boof, stomp, or freewheel, but the essence of Beaverfest is held in the final, four-stage drop. The river bends to the left, funneling down a sluiceway of crashing waves, then over a steep slide into a nearly river-wide hole, into more crashing waves with a tricky boof off the curling pillow on the left. At last, a moment to breathe. Then on to the final stage, an enormous hole with a sneak on the right (or an intimidating plug through the shoulder on the left). Paddlers and locals alike cheer and shout from shore as an endless procession of near misses, perfect boofs, and bouncy swims plays out before them. It' all here: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When paddlers feel they can no longer lift their boats for the walk back to the top of Moshier Falls, they load up the cars for the short drive to the Eagle section, where racers in the second stage of the KONY series, the Eagle Race, sprint through cracks barely wider than their boats and dodge the non-racers crowding the eddies. This year, Kenny Unser organized an electronic timing system that allowed for instantaneous results down to the thousandth of a second. Despite the rain, spectators reported in droves to watch the most dramatic event in the series. Pat Keller took yet another first, with a time of 1:20.343, with Wyatt Hyndman hot in his wake at 1:20.752. Read that again, that's less than four-tenths of a second, a time difference that in past years would have constituted a tie. To use Kenny's own words, "electronic timing for the win … literally." Ian Van Wingert took third with a final time of 1:22.170.

After yet another night of debauchery at the festival grounds, this time amplified by slick mud from the day's rain, paddlers dispersed between Taylorville/Eagle and the Raquette for a final few hours of fun. Though the format has changed, and the event has grown significantly in popularity, the fact that the Beaver River Rendezvous has continued to draw paddlers together for nearly 20 years is a powerful statement.

For those following the KONY series, keep an eye out for the mass start Moose Race on October 14. While Keller has taken an early lead in the quest for the crown, Hyndman is sitting in an opportune position for an upset.

Erin Savage had a stellar performance in the QONY (women’s category of KONY) series, taking first at both the Raquette and the Eagle races. Genevieve Royer is close behind with second place finishes at both events. Christina Kossis and Veronique Delisle took third and fourth place finishes in the Eagle race, respectively. With a 100-point gap between Kossis and Royer, it seems the battle for the crown must be settled between Savage and Royer at the Moose next month.

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