I love community. In my 35+ years of adventure sports; I have had the opportunity to belong to a number of adventure communities of athletes.. As a “35 year novice kayaker”, this is one community that I have the least experience with. I am not sure why. It is probably because I spent the majority of my time on the Big Piney Creek and never really ventured out of my comfort zone till a few years ago when I went with Kerry Moore and some other paddlers down Hurricane Creek and then Falling Water Creek at flood stage. I was baptized.
Like other communities of like-minded adventurers, the paddling community is a close knit group of athletes and their families/friends. You only need to add water for this group to come to life and come to life they do!
When the life of a member of this community was tragically cut short, this community responded. Jon Kennedy was a member of this community. This 40 year old husband and father of two boys was killed in a kayaking accident on the Pine Creek section of the Arkansas River in Colorado. I didn’t know Jon, but I looked at his Facebook page. It is filled with so many heartfelt memories and “miss you Jon” statements from his community of paddlers, family and friends. I wish I got the chance to meet him. His memory is alive.
The paddling community; led by Doug Webber, responded in the only way they knew how. Organize a race on one of the most accessible, yet difficult rivers in Arkansas. Race the Falls was created with all proceeds going to the family of Jon Kennedy.
This past Saturday, 74+ paddlers of all ages and levels of experience made the trek to The Cossatot River State Park and Natural Area for the second annual Race the Falls kayak race. The water Gods blessed the participants with enough water to put on a great race.
The race is simple.
The fastest paddler through the falls wins a new boat. The race begins at the Cossatot Falls campground and finishes at the Gravel Bar. This section of the River has a tight cluster of class III and IV rapids with names such as Cossatosser, Eye Opener, BMF, Washing Machine, Whiplash, and The Last One. Kayakers and Open Boaters start at two minute intervals and see how fast they can negotiate the course. Expert safety teams are stationed at each rapid to ensure that the athletes pass safely through the course, but not necessarily with their boat. With sporadic rain and temps in the mid 30’s, safety is; as usual, paramount.
What a show! I witnessed amazing athletic feats…of athletes attempting to keep their boats upright. Not everyone was successful. There were a fair amount of failed rolls. Those with usually strong rolls in whitewater were surprised with the flow of the water and the shock of the cold water hitting their faces, making is hard to stay calm and wait for a chance to get upright. One after the other, paddlers made their way down the course to cheers from family and friends along the course.
This year the race included World Class Paddler, Pat Keller. Pat won the race with a time of 2:19. Way to go Pat! (results are posted on the event Facebook page)
There were no losers (A winner and survivors, but no losers) yesterday. The fellowship, camaraderie, new stories, and shared memories made everyone a winner. I personally hope this race continues to grow in participation and spectators. Congrats to Doug Webber for is drive and commitment to his friend Jon and the paddling community.
Like I said, I love community.
Michael Roys is a teacher and adventure enthusiast who bases his operations out of the Russellville, Arkansas area. Besides being an outdoor participant, Michael also promotes the outdoor lifestyle and the beauty of Arkansas through writing and photography on his River Valley Adventures Facebook Page. You can also follow Michael on this Twitter and Instagram Pages.