Colorado Season Opener
Paddlefest kicks off another season of boating in the mecca of whitewater

At the center of the whitewater mecca of Colorado is the town of Buena Vista. Once a sleepy, mining outpost southwest of Denver, Buena Vista is now the site of a funky downtown community designed by whitewater kayakers and siblings Jed Selby and Katie Urban; the Arkansas River flows through the heart of the town and has been re-engineered for better playboating; and it's within easy striking distance of some of the best creekboating on the continent.

Memorial Day weekend typically kicks off boating season in the Front Range of Colorado, and Colorado Kayak Supply, a Buena Vista-based outfitter and retail shop is celebrating the coming of spring with its annual Paddlefest. "There are a lot of river festivals where people can go watch world-class paddlers," says organizer Earl Richmond. "But Paddlefest is designed for people to come and paddle with and learn from the pros…and watch them compete in a rodeo as well."

Richmond's long list of pro boaters, including Eric, Emily and Dane Jackson, Ruth Gordon, Dave Fusilli, Dan Gavere and Kelsey Thompson, among many others, will be kept busy over the four-day event with lessons, tech talks and evening play sessions on the Arkansas as part of the Buena Vista Pro Rodeo. Emily Jackson and Gordon are offering women's specific whitewater courses, Gavere is teaching standup paddleboarding and Liquid Logic boater John Grace is instructing two-hour stroke clinics. Richmond hopes the Friday and Saturday night rodeo competition will showcase the Arkansas new and improved lower downtown features, including a river-wide play wave. And new for this year is a greater focus on flatwater paddling, including SUP, kayak fishing and recreational kayaking.

Colorado Kayak Supply moved to Buena Vista in 2004, about the same time Selby and Urban launched South Main, their Arkansas River-centered take on sustainable urban design. The idea of building a community around the river, says Richmond, making it the ideal spot for a festival. The event also includes daily Happy Hour featuring locally brewed Eddyline beers, outdoor concerts and the launch of Grace's latest Lunch Video Magazine film. "People come for the paddling," says Richmond, "but they stay for the other things."
– Conor Mihell