BY CHRIS GRAGTMANS
The North Fork Championship is a special one.
It is a celebration of the North Fork of the Payette, a unique and pivotal river in the history of our sport. This river was the home and stomping grounds of people like Walt Blackadar, Rob Lesser, and Doug Ammons. The North Fork was the accessible training ground that propelled these people to first descents and expeditions to the most audacious rivers on the planet, and it still challenges the best of the best today.
The NFC’s main event, a giant slalom through Jacob’s Ladder, is generally considered to be the most challenging kayak race on the planet. Both in technical challenge and consequences, this half-mile long maelstrom pushes the best paddlers in the world to their limits. Alongside this focal point, there is also a more intermediate race on the Lower 5 section of the river, and an action-packed boatercross on the upper stretches. These races comprise the weekend celebration of this river and the community of people that surround it.
Here’s what’s going on at this event, and what you can expect out of the weekend:
Lower 5 Race/Wildcards: The Lower 5 Race went down yesterday (Thurs., June 12). Some athletes raced to test themselves against the clock on their favorite section of river, others raced for the honor of competing alongside the already invited Elite Class on Jacob’s Ladder. In the end, the Wildcards were: Pangal Astorga; MoMo Castillo; Tren Long; Alec Voorhees; Geoff Calhoun
First Female: Bumping up from alternate to the big dance, the Elite Giant Slalom will see its first female competitor ever on Saturday. Katrina Van Wijk will line up with the boys and launch off the ramp and into chaos.
Boat Design: Several kayak manufacturers are stepping up to the plate to design custom 9’ racing boats. Pyranha has designed a boat for Gerd Serrasolses, Dagger has the Phantom, Wave Sport has the Whip, and Isaac Levinson has his custom carbon kayak. Unfortunately it’s not looking like any of these specialized race weapons are going to come off the car, because in Jacob’s Ladder, the name of the game is staying in control, and the size of the rapid proves that more traditional and forgiving creekboat designs will win out. Watch for these highly tuned boats next weekend at Payette River Games.
Water Level: The water has been running at about 1700 cfs, a fairly low level for the North Fork, but just like last year, received a healthy bump of about 800 cfs to shift into true form. The river is every bit as powerful as ever!
Talent: The race has a lot of international talent this year. A few new competitors include Igor from Russia, multi-time winner of the King of Asia Race, one of the gnarliest events on the planet. Sickline World Championships winner Joe Morley is here from the UK. The Chileans are also well-represented, with Pangal Astorga placing the highest amongst Expert-class qualifiers, and MoMo Castillo also putting down a blazing fast run. The Serrasolses brothers from Spain are looking strong, and the US contingent will work hard to keep this title from leaving the country. Domestic paddlers to look out for include defending champion Louis Geltman, Dane Jackson, Andrew Holcombe, Evan Garcia, Rush Sturges, Ben Marr and a host of others. The talent in this pool of athletes is staggering, and with the randomness of Jake’s, any paddler in the competition has the ability to take the title.
Lifestyle: Ultimately, the North Fork is all about the lifestyle. The weather is beautiful, the water is warm, and the rapids are huge. It stays light out until 10 p.m., and the locals are as nice as they come. It just doesn’t get better than that!
— The author, an NFC Championship stalwart and Elite race invitee, is left observing this year due to a shoulder injury/dislocation last week at The GoPro Mountain Games’ Homestake Creek Race.