BY KENNY UNSER
Geoff Calhoun is spreading the news about this year's Whitewater King of New York race series. King Calhoun ascended to the throne in 2014 with victories at the Class V Eagle and Raquette races earning himself a nomination for Canoe & Kayak's Paddler of the Year Award. Confident of his chances of keeping the crown, a calm Calhoun is calling all comers in 2015.
The King of New York races begin on Saturday, July 18, with a tune-up event down Watertown's Black River Canyon during the Black River Festival. "We're only having three point-series races for King of New York and Girl King of New York this year: the Raquette Race, the Eagle Section of the Beaver, and the Moose Race," Calhoun explains. "Most importantly is going to be Labor Day weekend because there's two races that weekend."
Calhoun is referring to the Adirondacks’ Beaver River Rendezvous, an informal gathering of expert kayakers that takes place each Labor Day weekend. Known popularly as "BeaverFest," the rendezvous centers around recreational dam releases into three dewatered sections of the Beaver River near Croghan and the Stone Valley section of the Raquette River in Colton, N.Y. Reliable flows and short shuttles make it common for paddlers to enjoy two or more sections of whitewater each day of the holiday weekend.
Racers flocking to BeaverFest get two chances to accumulate points toward the King of New York title by competing first in a time-trial race on the long and powerful Class V rapids of the Raquette River. The following day, paddlers sprint down the steep slides of the Eagle section with two chances to clock the fastest descent. Holding the course record with a blistering 1 minute, 22 seconds in 2012, Calhoun cautions, "you definitely have to paddle fast and crush all your lines."
Racers in contention for the throne will need to return to the Adirondack Park for a final showdown on the Moose in October. The Moose race features a mass-start that is both a spectacle and an added strategic challenge to the already difficult Class V race course. Snow is common around Old Forge in October and the steep set of pool-drop rapids forces racers to seek out the fast lines through the wide riverbed.
Calhoun alludes to the notoriously liquor-fueled award ceremony at which the King of New York is crowned. A long succession of "winners" is paraded up to drink from a communal bottle before prizes for the series are awarded to racers at random through a participant lottery. "Every race you enter, you have another chance to win," Calhoun explains, "a Dagger Green Boat is the grand prize."
Unique in the world of creek racing, women that participate in the King of New York events are eligible to win more than the men. "For the girls, we have a separate lottery this year," says Calhoun, "one girl will win a Werner Paddle, Bomber Gear is giving something, and women are also in the overall raffle."
Having previously worn the crown in 2012, Geoff Calhoun is the series' only repeat champion. While he may be working to raise the level of competition at the King of New York events, Calhoun is not welcoming his ouster, teasing, "You know there has never been a back-to-back King of New York winner."
— Read more on the history of the King of New York series and its place in the region.
— Check out more touring destinations around Lake Placid and advice on an Adirondack escape through the St. Regis Canoe Area.