Celebrating the win at the festival. Photo: Jessica Waters

April 12-14, 2013—Paddlers from along the east coast gathered in north Georgia to participate in the 4th annual Tallulah Fest. Celebrating the release of the Tallulah Gorge, this young festival has grown from the hundred paddlers at its first event to several hundred boaters and enthusiasts this year, demonstrating the love of the river and celebration of its release during the spring.

The Tallulah Gorge had been a landmark destination in the 1800s. Its towering waterfalls and steep cliffs marked it as the honeymoon capital of the south until it was dammed after the turn of the century, becoming one of the the first totally controlled rivers in the U.S. The tourism quickly dried up with the water flow.

Then in the 1990s, near a hundred years after the Tallulah was dammed, the project was up for relicensing. Local paddlers teamed up with American Whitewater to negotiate a whitewater flow study, also running a first descent of the river. It became an instant classic, and after several years of negotiations, meetings and legal paperwork, American Whitewater and the local paddling community managed to secure three annual release weekends into the new dam license in 1997.

Billy Crush playing around on Tallulah. Photo: Jessica Waters

The Tallulah Fest celebrates those efforts and success. The idea for the festival came about when a few local Georgia boys realized they were traveling far to party at other rivers. "We were going to Cheat Fest, Gauley Fest—driving far to all these other festivals and thought, why isn't there one near us?" Will Oliver, cofounder of the festival, said. "That's when it struck us to start our own."

In 2011, the group kicked off the first festival with around a hundred people. "Our biggest worry then was making sure there was enough beer for everyone," Oliver said. "We had no idea it was going to get so big so fast. Vendors were calling us, and this year we were able to have major prizes thanks to donations. I never dreamed it'd get this big in only four years."

Friday night of the festival was pre-game. Pyranha Kayak’s 2013 Promo Video premiered, a 15-minute show of all the good runs Demshitz fired up in 2012. It got the crowd charged, and in true Southern fashion, the band Sourwood Honey blared moonshine-driven bluegrass until early morning.

Morning came, and a couple hundred paddlers hit the Tallulah. "I hadn’t been in a boat for approximately a year (due to my deployment last year), and it felt really good," Oliver said. "At Oceana I fired it up hit the Thing and got worked in the hole. It was too much for me, and I was swimming with the fish.” Saturday vendors included Wave Sport, Pyranha Kayaks & Demshitz, Liquid Logic, Bliss-Stick, Nantahala Outdoor Center, Sweetwater Brewery, Blackfly Canoes, RVR Apparel, Teamscum, Up Your Fancy, Whitewater Porn, GoPro Mounts and two food vendors.

The festival had a lot of big names in attendance including Pat Kellar, Dane Jackson and Dave Fusilli and others. Several evening events followed the the day’s paddle. People won some gear at the raffle, including from Shred Ready, Mountain Khakis, Keen and Watershed. There was also the Demshitz Brown Claw Photo Contest, with winner Mitch Bearden/ Billy Crush and Matt Parsons coming in a close 2nd. The last major event was the video contest.

1st Falling with Authority by Eliot Berz and Hunt Jennings
2nd Rocks Water and Gradient by Colin Hunt
3rd A Leap of Faith by Seth Burdette

"It was a truly awesome weekend put on by Wave Sport, BBB Paddling, the Tallulah release volunteers, American Whitewater and all the other sponsors and vendors involved who make Tallulah Fest possible," Oliver said. All proceeds from the festival go to American Whitewater. While the 2013 Tallulah Fest came to a close, volunteers and organizers are already planning for next year's release.

Running the major rapid Oceana. Photo: John Wallace