Photo: Matt Fields-Johnson
Asheville, N.C.-based whitewater boater Andrew Holcombe found himself on unfamiliar ground at the 2010 Green Race, held Saturday, Nov. 6, on the infamous Class V Narrows of the Green River in western North Carolina.
Holcombe, unable to defend his 2009 long K1 title and course record time due to a back injury, instead joined a throng of 600 some spectators on the smooth rock shores of the Green overlooking burly and like-wise named drops: Gorilla, Go Left or Die, Frankenstein.
Kiwi slalom paddler and extreme race star Mike Dawson piloted his LiquidLogic Stinger to win the Men's long K1 title in four minutes and 26 seconds, slightly off Holcombe's 2009 record. Dawson also claimed the Ironman award for combined long- and short boat times. (A C&K report from the ’09 Green Race, ‘The Safest Most Dangerous Race in the World,’ is right here.)
That a non-local won the event didn't flat-out surprise Holcombe, but he was still impressed by Dawson's performance. "It has a lot to do with the type of paddler that Mike is," says Holcombe. "He's very, very fast and he comes from a slalom background, so he's used to putting stuff together on short notice and good at remembering lines. There's no question that he's one of the best extreme racers in the world right now."
John Grace, another Asheville kayaker and Green Race pioneer, invited Dawson and a contingent of New Zealanders to the event, now in it’s 15th year. He says Dawson took the invitation seriously; he showed up early, getting in 20-plus practice runs. "There's a saying around here, 'One of the key parts to winning the Green Race is making it to Green Race day,'" says Grace, who tied for fourth place in the 2010 long boat class. "[Dawson] got pinned and had some serious beatdowns in his practice runs but he stuck with it and worked it out."
For competitors and spectators alike, the race was a hit once again because of its unpredictable nature. Long and tough, the Narrows is nearly impossible to run perfectly.
Says Holcombe, "A lot of the extreme races you see today are really short, and the longer ones have easier rapids. What makes the Green Race hard is that it's long and there are a lot of big rapids, most of which come at the end when you're really tired. To add to that, at the top it's really technical. This makes for a perfect storm of opportunities to mess up."
On his blog, Dawson enthused about the Green Race's rabid spectators, big rapids and simple, homegrown charm. (He also wrote this: “I smashed myself in the face, and got four sticthes on the side of my eye of the river during the race- Thanks to doctor Jodie.”) According to Grace, that pretty well sums it up, adding that the event's growing international renown furthers its reputation as "the greatest show in all of sport."
"It's the closest kayakers will ever get to experiencing the feeling of a football team walking out the tunnel to the field. It really is like a gauntlet,” says Holcombe.
Other Green Race winners included American Adriene Levknecht, who topped the field of six women, including Norwegian creeker Mariann Saether; and American slalom specialist Isaac Levinson won the men's short boat competition. Complete results here. — Conor Mihell
YouTube as Our Witness: