Photos by Tom Dunning
Just over a year after kicking on the turbines and welcoming the public, Riversport Rapids has now presented its inaugural Oklahoma City Whitewater Festival. Held during the weekend of May 20-21, the gathering illustrates that the facility is wasting no time to establish itself as a paddling destination and center for major whitewater competition. The first-time event featured a freestyle kayak exhibition, an extreme slalom race (where competitors use stock plastic whitewater kayaks to race through the slalom course), as well as other forms of entertainment. If that wasn’t enough, to tie it all together the festival hosted two national paddling competitions - the R-4 National Rafting Championships, a qualifier for the 2018 world championship in Argentina, and the 2017 USA Canoe and Kayak Slalom National Team Trials, an encore to holding the final leg of the 2016 Olympic trial at the facility’s grand opening last May.
"Being our first-ever whitewater festival in Oklahoma City we are really pleased with the turnout and the variety of different athletes and paddlers that have come," says Michael Knopp, Executive Director of the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation.
The whitewater festival is another step in the master plan for Knopp, the Boathouse Foundation, and the people of Oklahoma City to transform a once neglected and barely existent riverfront, to a thriving center of activity, providing an exceptional recreational outlet adjacent to downtown with the hopes of reshaping the city’s outdoor culture.
Knopp states the whitewater festival is planned to take place annually at the Riversport Rapids. By hosting such events, along with the high-caliber national competitions it has already drawn, the venue has created the opportunity to not only gather regional residents to scope out the park and foster a connection for their hometown whitewater spot, but also pull in the sport’s top athletes from around the country to test out what the city has created. So far the buzz for the urban paddling course appears positive. If that buzz resounds wide enough, the city at the crossroads of America that once couldn’t be thought further from a whitewater epicenter, may find itself hosting events of international importance, a notion not overlooked by U.S. Olympic canoe racer, Casey Eichfeld.
"We are probably going to be turning to this facility for a lot of events in the future," says Eichfeld. "We’ve already held an Olympic trials here last year, now we’ve got our team trials here this year. I’m sure that in the future we are going to be looking to hold more events and potentially even some world cups if we can convince the ICF."
On location reporting provided by Tom Dunning