Vertical Reality
EddyFlower and First Descents team up to make the most of time on the water

According to professional whitewater kayaker Brad Ludden, the rationale behind the fourth annual EddyFlower Vertical Challenge is simple. "It's just another reason to paddle," he says, "as if boaters need another reason to get out on the water."

Competitors in the Vertical Challenge put their time in the boat to a good cause. Individuals or teams of paddlers have 32 days to paddle as many vertical feet as possible while raising money for First Descents, an organization that was founded by Ludden and offers free outdoor adventure camps for young adults with cancer. The challenge is split into divisions based on skill and paddling craft (kayak, open canoe, riverboard or raft). Last year, $15,000 in prizes were awarded to the paddlers who logged the most vertical feet and drummed up the most donations. More importantly, the vertical challenge has raised over $68,000 for First Descents since its inception.

Ludden has used his notoriety as being the first Nike-sponsored paddlesports athlete, an Outside magazine cover boy and winner of Cosmopolitan magazine's "hottest bachelor in America" title in 2008 to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of young cancer patients. First Descents has offered kayaking and outdoor adventure programs for over 600 people between the ages of 19 and 39 since its inception in 2001. The Vertical Challenge, says Ludden, is a means of raising funds for First Descents to get more people outdoors.

"I really believe in the change in perspective of facing a challenge in the outdoors," says Ludden. "All of those lessons and rewards translate very clearly to people with cancer. They restore self-confidence, destroy feelings of fragility and gives an identity to these people other than being a cancer patient."

New for 2010 was an east coast competition, which wrapped up on April 15, to offer eastern paddlers an optimal window for water levels. The popular (and highly competitive) west coast event opens on May 15 and runs until June 15. Last year, 182 competitors bagged nearly 1.2 million vertical feet on rivers in 31 states, raising over $34,000. –
Conor Mihell

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