The Green Race: Going Big but Staying Home

It all started with some local buddies, a single van and beer at the take out. Now 17 years later last Saturday, more than 160 racers competed in the 17th annual Green River Narrows Race in Saluda, N.C. With more international and top competitors racing this year than ever before, the Green Race is becoming one of the top creek races in the world. When a whitewater race receives such renowned athletes and title, a question emerges: can it still keep its grassroots identity?

"This year was a big step as far as numbers," said Shane Benedict, Liquidlogic Kayaks co-founder. More than 100 long-boat competitors kicked off the race at noon followed by the open-canoe class and the Green's first-ever topo-duo class, with the dream team of former Green champs Pat Keller (’06, ’08) and Isaac Levinson (2011) taking the win. Nearly another 100 short boats came next, and the switch-hitter (read: backward) class served as the exciting finale. Hand-paddlers and C-1ers were interspersed throughout the race. Down in the gorge watching them all were more than 1,000 spectators cheering on every single racer.

"It's so community-backed, I can't not love it," said six-time champ Tommy Hilleke. Clay Wright, another former winner, agreed, stating there's a sense of community drawing the same racers back every year. "Every year's winning racer was at the race last Saturday. It's special in that way."

When finished with each event, most of the competitors got out of their boats and cheered alongside the onlookers for their fellow racers. Having 12 inches of water—a solid four inches higher than normal release flow—made for an intense race. According to many of the racers, this year had some of the most carnage in Green Race history, including a pin at Go Left that shut down that line for most of the race and many swims past Gorilla into Scream Machine. The safety team was on it, though, and no serious injuries occurred.

The Green Race was the last major kayaking race of the year as well as the sixth and final stage in the Association of Whitewater Professionals’ Whitewater World Series. "It feels amazing to see the Green Race on a global scale; it adds another element to it," Hilleke added. And the international racers delivered, with New Zealand's Mike Dawson and France's Eric Deguil taking first and second place, respectively, in the short-boat class, with Dawson  winning the race outright in a record-breaking time of 4 minutes, 10 seconds in his long-boat. Canadian Katrina Van Wijk and New Zealander Louise Urwin added some solid competition for reigning women’s champ Adriene Levknecht as well, who took home her fifth straight title. (Click HERE for full results.)

"The Green Race has a lot of potential to become its own really high-profile event," Wright said. Currently, Austria’s Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship is the most highly contested and most sponsored creek race in the world. Many sponsors and media are encouraging the Green Race to become bigger, while organizers want to keep it a low-key, no-entry-fee race.

"It's in a crazy, weird spot right now," Benedict said, noting how the organizers are now trying to figure out how official they want it to be. "Those of us who have had influence in the race believe that everybody participating in the Green Race is just as important as anything else about it. Everybody is a part of that community.”

The challenge is that there's a lot of different ways people think about the Green Race. No matter what the Green Race becomes in the future, "What it will be is the Green Race forever," Wright said.

Category Winners and Times. Click HERE for full results.

Long boat
Mike Dawson at 4:10 (New Record)
Dane Jackson at 4:15 (Broke Record of 4:18 by Andrew Holcombe)
Isaac Levinson at 4:19

Short boat
Mike Dawson at 4:30
Eric Deguil at 4:31
Isaac Levinson at 4:39

Jordan Poffenberger at 5:02
Dane Jackson at 5.07
Tad Dennis at 5.08

Adriene Levknecht at 4.58
Katrina Van Wijk at 5:06
Louise Urwin at 5:41

Hand paddle
Bill Clipper at 5:23
Jacob Kowalski at 5:27
Greg Garrard at 5:49

Levinson/Keller at 4:48
Jackson/Geoff at 4:57
Dawson/Hradilek at 17:47

Jordan Poffenberger at 7:06 (Broke Record by Eli Helbert)
Eli Helbert at 9:24
Bradley McMillan at 9:25