This weekend will be the first race of the 6th annual Lozer Cup event, a series of races on the Deerfield in western Massachusetts. The event mixes old-school boats with wildwater rules on a class III-IV—an odd combination to say the least. Canoe & Kayak magazine got a hold of the co-founder and organizer Kenny Unser to ask him how the Lozer Cup came to be, and here’s what he had to say:
By Kenny Unser
In fall 2006, Ted DeVoe and Jeff Sharpe joined me in a rented Kampgrounds of America cabin in the Old Forge, NY. The annual lake draw-down there brings hundreds of paddlers to town for the Moose River Festival. Among the diverse crowd, Ted had found a veterinarian willing to take a look at a lump growing on his aging dog, Molly. As we waited in the cabin for Molly’s appointment, conversation turned to the pristine Perception Pirouette that DeVoe had acquired at the Clarke Outdoors boat swap the weekend before. Sharpe and I had also been paddling “classic” boats recently. Jeff had a Pirouette, and I had been spending time in a Perception Slasher C-1. As the beers diminished, we spoke of bringing back the long boat and of hosting events where participants would pull their aging classics out from garages and basements for an old-school revival. By the time the vet arrived to give us the good news that Molly’s lump was nothing to be concerned about, Jeff, Ted, and I had conceived of the Lozer Cup race series.
The concept was simple: we would schedule mass-start races during the Deerfield River release season in western Massachusetts. Sunday would be race day, and we’d all show up to take a run in our retro boats. Though DeVoe was a skilled slalom racer, we didn’t think of the series as a very competitive endeavor. It was our goal to see what kind of old boats would come out of the woodwork. We also hoped to see our friends get trashed trying to paddle irrelevant old boats in the wake of the design revolution that had transformed the kayak industry.
As with many good ideas born of drunken kayakers high on running stouts, it would have been easy to see the Lozer Cup idea fade away with our morning hangovers. The combination of a long winter and no girlfriend, however, gave me plenty of idle time to establish a website, pick some dates and iron out the details to make our concept a reality. When summer 2007 came around, we had a schedule of 10 races and an enthusiastic crew of friends seeking out old kayaks. Ted DeVoe predictably won our first race. The 2007 race season saw a resurgence of old designs on the river, the first sign of the impact the Lozer Cup was going to have on the Deerfield River culture.
For many of us, playboating had gotten old, and the Deerfield River was losing its appeal. Now we had something new to make the class III-IV Dryway more interesting. Racing down the Dryway section was fun and delightfully non-competitive. When the novelty of paddling an old kayak started to diminish, racers turned their focus to doing better in the races and several retro designs began to emerge as racer favorites: the Dagger Vortex, the Hydra Dragonfly, and the Perception Pirouette to name a few. Though Wavehoppers had made their appearance early on in the series, more conventional retro boats were dominant among the core group of racers for the first couple years.
Six seasons and over 50 races later, the Lozer Cup has grown into a more competitive race series. To win the series, a racer must have mastery of a wildwater-style race boat. Retro boats are less common while modern long boats such as the Dagger Green Boat are increasingly popular. Wildwater racers have raised the level of competition at Lozer Cup events, and Lozer Cup racers have started to cross over to wildwater racing. In 2012, the regional racing organization, New England Canoe & Kayak Racing Association (NECKRA), sanctioned 2 Lozer Cup races. Participants in these races became nationally ranked Wildwater paddlers. Four of the top 10 nationally ranked wildwater paddlers in 2012 participated in Lozer Cup races. Despite the series' evolution, the events are still free, inclusive and retain their grassroots feel.
For intermediate boaters comfortable on the Dryway section of the Deerfield River, the Lozer Cup stands as one of the more accessible whitewater events among the new breed of grassroots downriver races. All capable paddlers are encouraged to come out to the Dryway during one of the scheduled races. It's a great way to make connections in the growing community of New England paddlers. Be warned, however, because downriver racing can be a little addictive. What begins as a fun way to spice up the river often ends with an obsessive collection of old kayaks and an urge to best your friends on race day.
Click here for more info and a schedule of races.
Stay tuned for results and wrap up on Monday.