By Matt Young

Last weekend, paddlers around the Northeast gathered for the season's second Lozer Cup Race, held in conjunction with the annual Deerfield River Festival in northwestern Massachusetts. In a region of the U.S. not known for its paddling, New England boaters have been working hard over the years to bring recognition to the whitewater rivers they enjoy, and the Lozer Cup and Deerfield Fest together make up one of the effort’s success stories.

The second race generally sees a surge in participant numbers as people come from greater distances than usual to attend the annual Deerfield River Festival, a popular gathering of northeastern whitewater paddlers and an important fundraiser for American Whitewater. All of the funds raised as part of the event support the organization's conservation and access efforts in the Northeast.

The evening event, held the Saturday night before the race, is one part party, one part fundraiser and one part family reunion. Vendors had set up around the fairgrounds, showing off their products to the crowd, while local musicians like Jeff Campbell, husband of Wavesport athlete Elaine Campbell, entertained festivalgoers. As the sun went down the party heated up. Loud cheers could be heard from the excitement generated by the "raft guide Olympics," and the grand finale was a high-stakes "rock paper scissors" showdown. The winner walked away with a brand-new Burn creekboat donated by Pyranha.

This year's festival attracted top Lozer Cup competitors such as Vermont's Justin Beckwith, who won several past Lozer Cup races, is a former King of New York Champion and most recently blew the competition away at the annual New Haven Creek Race. Former Olympic biathlete Hugh Pritchard, who happens to be a lightning fast downriver racer, was also in attendance.

"Is everybody ready?" Lozer Cup Founder Kenny Unser's voice was barely audible over the roar of the chilly water spilling from the dam on Sunday morning. About 30 competitors hollered to signal their readiness. All of the boaters faced upstream and upon Unser's signal turned around and began sprinting downstream. The chaotic start, with 14-foot boats turning 180 degrees in turbulent water and banging into each other, is all part of the fun of the Lozer Cup.

It was absolute chaos as the boats made their way toward the first major rapid. Strokes were being taken off other paddlers' chests, boats were flipping in the shallow water, and yet somehow everyone kept smiling. The faster paddlers fell in line, strategically waiting for the others to make a mistake. "In a race this long, with this kind of competition, you can't just expect to go out there and paddle the pants off the other guys," said Beckwith after the race. Except, that's exactly what Pritchard did. He battled through the chaotic start, took an early lead, and never looked back. Youngster Ryan Mooney followed in second, but the real battle was for third.

Three competitors—Mark Trahan, Matt Young and Beckwith—approached Dragon's Tooth Rapid, regarded as the most difficult on the river. As they came through, each paddler was desperately trying to take a stroke that didn't land on someone else's boat. After several lead changes in less than a minute, Beckwith secured the third spot on the podium, with Trahan and Young rounding out the top five.

There were hugs and high fives all around at the takeout as paddlers recalled their favorite moments of the race. Despite the chaos and the competition, no one forgot what the Lozer Cup or Deerfield Riverfest is really about. “It’s about having fun and celebrating our passion for the river,” Unser said. “That’s why we're all really here. ”

Looking at boats at the Deerfield Fest. Photo: Matt Young

Race Results:
1 Hugh Pritchard 15.49 Wavehopper
2 Ryan Mooney 16.14 Speeder
3 Justin Beckwith 16.31 Wildwater
4 Mark Trahan 16.36 Speeder
5 Matt Young 16.37 Wavehopper
6 Joey Tammaro 17.13 Greenboat
7 Justin Crannel 17.16 Wavehopper
8 Jeff Belanger 17.36 Speeder
9 Mike Porter 17.46 Wavehopper
10 Kenny Unser 17.52 Greenboat
11 Alex Toth 18.00 Dancer
12 Carl Lafrenier 18.10 Wavehopper
13 Milo Johnson 18.26 Speeder
14 Ben Natasch/Katelyn Green 18.30 Duo
15 Lucas Germano 18.40 Hydra Dragonfly
16 Scott Barnes 18.47 Greenboat
17 Elaine Campbell 18.51 Wavesport Ethos
18 Greg Smith 18.59 Perception Pirouette
19 Taylor Waller 19.14 Perception Pirouette
20 Michael Marner 19.55 Wavesport Ace
21 Clay Murphy 20.01 Fluid
22 Jeremy Cass 20.25
23 Paul Glasscock 20.42 Jackson Villan
24 Dave McElwain 51.40 SquirtBoat