Blue skies and good times, well good times anyways. This year’s Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado boasted huge crowds, a variety of mountain sports and an assortment of weather.
Arriving at Homestake Creek in Red Cliff, Colorado on Thursday morning for the Steep Creek Race, competitors had more to battle than the 480 foot per mile class V gradient in front of them. It seems winter forgot that it was June. With temperatures hovering around freezing coupled with sleet, rain, hail and snow one might think there would be a lull in water levels. Wrong. Though colder, precipitation is precipitation, and paddlers were confronted with higher, pushier water than in years past. “We all know the lines, but it’s just a lot faster today than we’ve seen it,” said Wave Sport paddler Bryan Kirk.
That faster flow did make for some gruesome carnage, especially on the last rapid called Leap of Faith, an entry slide into a series of technical moves ending in an eight foot drop into a munchy slot hole which many paddlers went into upside down. And if they didn’t enter upside down, they typically ended up that way by the time it was all over.
The faster flow also made for some much faster times, including Tao Berman’s winning lap of 1:49.
Division Finalists for Thursday’s Dagger Steep Creek Championship
If Thursday was winter, then Friday was summer with scorching heat and clear skies. The smell of sunscreen was in the air as crowds gathered and kayakers took over the International Bridge area in downtown Vail for the Freestyle preliminaries. Air bladders were inflated underneath rubber deflectors installed in the river bottom of Gore Creek, allowing officials to deflect the 600 cfs flow into just the right spots to create a world class play hole in the middle of town. As the day wore on and shadows grew long, the initial group of paddlers was narrowed down to 15 men and 5 women for Saturday’s Semi Final and Final rounds.
Saturday started early with more than 60 paddlers competing in the 8:30 a.m. Downriver Race. The air was crisp and with a finish line only feet from a coffee shop, onlookers couldn’t resist a relaxing morning cup by the river. All of that changed as the Freestyle Semi Finals ramped up and morning coffee became afternoon cocktail (or PBR). The energy surged as Stephen Wright threw his monstrous Loops and Air Wheels, as characters like Johnny Meyers and 14-year old Jason Craig blasted out of the spray, as Dustin Urban linked trick after trick without fail and as E. J. wore his classic smile and peace sign.
In the Finals, the crowd’s decibel level mirrored the boaters performance, loud and strong. The audible encouragement crossed athletic lines as supporters completely foreign to kayaking would yell,”Up up up up up up!” to paddlers flushed from the hole. Everyone was on their feet, high fives were going around and the world’s best were putting on a show.
Eric Jackson looked like he sealed the deal with a high scoring 158-point ride. With only one chance left, Dustin Urban threw down an onslaught of moves without stopping for air, let alone time to set up for the next trick. By the time he was finished, the Colorado local had posted a new high score of 178 points, one that nobody could touch.
In the women’s division, Emily Jackson came out on top after battling it out with Ruth Gordon and Tanya Faux.
Finalists for Saturday’s Downriver Race
Finalists for Saturday’s Freestyle Championship
As the weekend wound down, the action turned from energized competition to American Gladiator style bumper boats.
The”8″ Ball Kayak event lived up to its reputation as groups of four kayakers raced into the chaos of 4 to 8 waiting”8″ Ballers (kayakers wearing black) whose sole purpose is to seek and destroy. Dented boats, hole thrashings and head on collisions were all part of the game as an ominous black coulds loomed over the championships. It started snowing again. It didn’t last very long, but like Thursday, it seemed to forecast the ensuing carnage.
Finalists for Sunday’s”8″ Ball Kayak Championships