Words by Chris Gragtmans
Photos by Nick Gottlieb
As I sat next to the roaring North Fork of the Payette River and watched Geoff Calhoun get his boat ready on the ramp, a wave of emotion and anxiety came over me. I wasn’t racing, but I have been there before, and knew exactly what he and the other competitors were experiencing.
They would soon slide down the massive plywood ramp, which would catapault them through the air and into one of the most legendary rapids in our sport, Jacob’s Ladder. On race day, the Class V test piece is flanked by a raucous crowd on river right and a six-car train of cheering spectators on river left. With a Red Bull DJ truck pumping beats in the background, I settled into position as judge at Gate 4 of 5 on the course for the third annual North Fork Championships. The privilege gave me a front-seat view of the action.
Geoff started things off well, and what transpired from that point on was the single most impressive display of kayaking skill that I have ever seen. Thirty athletes launched into the unbroken band of white that is “Jake’s,” and each picked their own line through. There was very little carnage–just a few flips and two aborted runs. I had watched all of these paddlers practice through the week, and saw plans executed and plans failed. Some paddlers took the conservative route and saved their energy, while others chose to go for broke and put everything on the line. In spite of the sadness that comes with not being at the starting line (a shoulder injury at the GoPro Mountain Games earlier this month forced me to decline my invitation), it was a special experience to watch this elite race from the spectator’s point of view.
A few highlights from this event were
The winners of all three events through the weekend were international. Gerd Serrasolses (ESP) won the Lower 5 Race, Eric Deguil (FR) won the Boatercross, and Jules Domine (FR) won the Giant Slalom/King of the North Fork title. Egor Voskoboynik (RU) pulled off a 2nd place in the Giant Slalom and was the most impressive performance to me personally. His paddling was a clinic of power and fluidity. The home team is going to need to step it up for next year!
It was fantastic to see the original North Fork icons supporting the event. Rob Lesser and other pioneers were in attendance and really seemed to be enjoying the energy and innovation that the young guys were bringing to the table.
Here to Stay.
The North Fork Race is truly coming into its own. The passion of organizer James Byrd and his wife Regan is evident in every detail of the event, and it is clear that this one is here to stay. It’s also great to see the local community rally around the event, and each progressive year is becoming bigger and better.
Once every racer had routed through the course, competitors and other paddlers all floated the seven miles of whitewater down to Banks, and finished the night with awards, food, and a great afterparty in Crouch, Idaho. The unassuming and humble community in this state continues to show the rest of us how to live the good life.