For many paddlers, looking back on the North Fork Championship II was like remembering a family reunion. Based out of nearby Crouch, Idaho, this second annual event offered not only an arena for athletes to compete down some of the world's toughest whitewater, but also a meeting ground for one of the largest gatherings of the big-name whitewater athletes, filmmakers and photographers out there.
"It's seeing everyone's dream come alive," said Bryan "BReal" Ward, local Idaho paddler and racer. "Everyone has worked toward having this community come together, and the NFC made that happen." Most of the paddlers had raced each other on other events or ventured together on the same expeditions throughout the year, so everyone seemed pretty excited to get back together on one of the toughest whitewater race courses in the world.
"Everyone was super fired up and did really well," said James Byrd, event founder and organizer. "Could not be happier with how it all turned out." The NFC II featured three main events. For Thursday's time trials, athletes raced down the North Fork's lower three miles. The top 30 finishers qualified for Friday's boatercross, and the top five placers qualified for the slalom race on Jacob's Ladder on Saturday.
While the athletes all raced hard to win the slalom race, everyone was stoked for the top three placers at Saturday's party. Jumping up from last year's 12th-place finish, Rush Sturges came in third for $1,000 amidst cheers from the crowd. As the only international paddler to make it to the podium, a very surprised Gerd Serrasolses walked up to the stage at second place, finally grinning as he received the $2,000 check.
"I'm a little surprised, sure," Serrasolses later said, to which his girlfriend Alicia Casas Zaragoza jumped in, "He had a such fast run. He hit his lines well; couldn't ask for more." Coming in first and winning the prize $4,500, Hood River, Ore., local Louis Geltman almost did not make it to the stage when a dozen other paddlers dog piled him. Though Geltman generally keeps a pretty low boater profile, he had the spotlight that night, and everyone recognized his prowess on the river.
“Louis Geltman is an OG (original gangster),” Isaac Levinson said. “I think he is a prime specimen of love for the sport and not in it for the fame, glory or money.” Geltman was all stoke about his win and the event in general, later saying to everyone that when growing up, "all I wanted was the chance to race whitewater slalom on huge rapids. James Byrd and Regan Lawson are making that happen in an amazing way."
A good ole-style family reunion would not be complete without some raucous partying. Celebrations followed the races each day, including the new addition of Thursday night's Melt Awards. Like a family slideshow recounting the shenanigans and exploits of its members, the Melt Awards showcased the last year's top paddling adventures with many of the featured photographers and filmmakers on hand. Idaho local Mike Leeds won Photo of the Year with his winter shot of Erik Boomer running Sahalie Falls. Sturges offered a sneak peak of Beyond the Drop, his short film documenting an international team's descent of the Five Falls of Mexico's Rio Tulijá. Anson Fogel showed Cascada, which won the Melt Awards Film of the Year and portrayed the waterfalls in Mexico that kayakers ran and the crazy stunts the filmmakers took to get the best shots. Everyone in the audience cheered for the films on exotic destinations and international paddlers, but it was for Banks, Idaho, a short video put together by locals at the last minute, for which the crowd erupted most.
Eventually, every gathering comes to an end. When Sunday's morning sun rose, everyone slowly left the Riverpond Campground and began their journeys to home, or more racing, or onto other whitewater destinations. Before leaving, some paddlers were already planning for next year's event. As TiTS DEEP founder and NFC II racer Katrina Van Wijk put it, "I was here last year, too, and I'm going to come very year. This place is magical."
Elite Division Results:
1 Eric Deguil 1:41
2 Andrew Holcombe 1:44
3 Jules Domine 1:46
4 Mikkel St. Jean-Duncan 1:48
5 Todd Wells 2:02