Now in its fourth year, Idaho’s North Fork Championship has grown into one of the most exceptional gatherings in whitewater kayaking. A three-day event, the NFC is recognized not just as one of the most wild races of the year, but also as a weekend of festivities that any outdoor enthusiast will enjoy.
On Thursday, over 80 racers participated in “The Expert Race,” a time-trial sprint from the top of “Juicer” to the bottom of “Cruncher” on the Lower 3 Section of the North Fork Payette. Competition was high as the Expert Race’s top five finishers (excluding pre-qualified competitors) earned a “wildcard” slot in Saturday’s Elite Division Giant Slalom on Jacob’s Ladder.
Thursday’s morning of activity on the Payette transformed into an evening celebration of whitewater film and photography at The Melt Awards in nearby Boise. Participants soaked in over a half-dozen spectacular whitewater films, showcasing names like Substantial Media House, River Roots, Nomade Media House, and Serrasolses Brothers Productions, while stunning prints from photographers such as Mike Leeds, Tait Trautman, John Webster and Jasper Gibson lined the walls of the Egyptian Theatre. By popular vote, Mountain Mind Collective won Best Film with their trailer for “For the Love” and Eric Parker won Best Photo with his image of Aniol Serrasolses’s first descent of Keyhole Falls in British Columbia. After the film and photo awards, the wildcard slots were announced: Joseph Simmons, Brad McMillian, Tren Long, Ryan Mooney, and Brendan Wells, respectively, were granted the last five wildcard slots in the Jacob’s Ladder slalom race.
Proceeding a long and exciting night of festivities, on Friday the NFC community migrated north along Highway 55 to once again regroup along the banks of the North Fork Payette. The event was a Boater-X race from the top to the bottom of “S-Turn.” Through a bracket system, the top two competitors in each heat advanced, with six competitors securing a position in the finals. In the end, France’s Eric Deguil took first for his third year in a row, with Dane Jackson in second, Alec Voorhees third, Kalob Grady fourth, Seth Swallen fifth, and Nouria Newman sixth.
Come Saturday morning, Thursday’s hangovers had finally washed away and everyone was ready for the weekend’s main event, the Giant Slalom Elite Division race on Jacob’s Ladder. Competitors gathered at high noon to test themselves on the newly designed Jake’s course. Instead of leaving the gates positioned as they had been for the last three years, race organizers James and Regan Byrd decided to redesign a new and alternative course.
At “Rodeo Hole,” a down-right gate followed by a down-left just below the feature challenged the competitors as they launched off the middle of the feature then charged hard to the left. Next, a down-left directly into a down-right pushed paddlers away from the typical “Rock Drop” line and challenged them to carve their ways through two back-to-back holes toward river-right then directly into “Taffy Puller.” Following Taffy Puller an up-right gate hidden just behind “Witch’s Tit” required paddlers to depart the main flow of the river and duck into an eddy on river-right. After the fifth gate, paddlers moved back into the main flow of the river and entered “Golf Course,” a quarter-mile-long rapid strewn with countless holes, waves and exposed rocks. Halfway through Golf Course, an up-left gate lingered at the top of a small eddy on river-left, and shorty downstream the final gate, a down-right sent competitors right into the finish line.
With times spread from 2 to 4 minutes, each racer gave the Jake’s Slalom everything they had. In the end, the paddlers who could maintain a clean line throughout the course and pull the most forward strokes were the ones who rose to the top.
After the annual afternoon “Stoke Float” down the remaining section of the North Fork to its confluence with the South Fork at Banks, racers, spectators and other enthusiasts headed up to the community site near Crouch, Idaho, to announce the results. Once sponsors had raffled off their prizes (including a Dagger Kayaks Mamba and an expense-paid paddling trip in Ecuador with Kayak Ecuador), the crowd was riled up and ready for the results.
Drumroll please ….. with solid performances in the Jake’s Race over the last three years, Gerd Serrasolses was thrilled to finally take first place and his $5,000 prize for his best run of 2 minutes, 5.5 seconds. Dane Jackson, arguably the world’s best all-around whitewater competitor, secured second and a $2,000 prize with a finish time at 2:06:29. And at 2:07:42, Isaac Levinson, another high-profile racer, landed in third with a $1,000 check. Following the podium spots, Aniol Serrasolses took fourth, top-finishing local paddler Alec Voorhees took fifth, Tren Long earned sixth, myself (Todd Wells) seventh, Nouria Newman (the second female to compete in the Jake’s Race and the first to land a top-10 finish) eighth, Kyle Hull ninth and Kalob Grady in 10th. These top 10 paddlers make up the “Trick Force” and, in addition to being invited back to compete in the 2016 NFC V Jake’s Race, will be responsible for voting in an additional 15 paddlers for next year’s Giant Slalom Elite Division race.
To conclude the weekend of races, river trips, videography, photography and just good ol’ Idaho life-styling, the crowd of NFC competitors and spectators migrated from the Awards Ceremony to the Dirty Shame -- Crouch’s infamous local dive-bar for a seemingly endless night of partying. Stoke was in the air and fueled the party late into the morning until the powerful Idaho sunrise finally sent everyone back to the comfort of their sleeping bags or directly to a run down the South Fork, North Fork or Main section of the Payette River. The North Fork Championships IV couldn’t have ended on a better note.
Huge thanks to James and Regan Byrd for organizing this spectacular event over the last four years, the sponsors that make it all possible, and the hundreds of paddlers and spectators who came out to participate in the weekend of competition and festivities. We hope to see you all next year at the NFC V!!!
-- Check out Mountain Mind Collective’s video highlights from the 2015 North Fork Championship IV.