The Return of Slalom Racing to Central Arkansas

Adventure Ozark 8-Hour Adventure Race

What do parachute pants, sea foam green, vinyl records, and kayak slalom racing have in common? They’re all making a comeback! On Saturday June 22, over 100 people showed up in Dierks, Arkansas at Horseshoe Bend Campground for the first slalom event in Arkansas in about 15 years. Kayak slalom racing, according to Wikipedia is, “a competitive sport where the aim is to navigate a decked canoe or kayak through a course of hanging gates on river rapids in the fastest time possible” and Arkansas has a rich tradition with kayak racing, even producing some Olympic caliber athletes who competed nationally. Recently local paddler, Jeff Gannon, got his hands on the original set of slalom gates and started a Facebook page called Arkansas Whitewater Slalom Racing with the hopes of putting together future events.

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Enter Hometown Throwdown and WorldKayak.com, which is an organization whose aim is to promote paddling and help sustain local paddling communities through events, either freestyle or racing, called Hometown Throwdown. The ideal location for such a race has always been at the lower Saline river below Dierks lake, but recent droughts have limited releases. With all of the recent rains and flooding we thought we might have a chance to get a release from the dam or at the very least piggyback our event during a scheduled release. After many phone calls to the Corp of Engineers, it looked as though it would be a no-go this time. Enter Tiffany Smith. I had spoken with Tiffany briefly describing what we were hoping to accomplish and 2 days before the event, which had been moved to the Ouachita River, we found out that they were moving their release to Saturday to accommodate our event! Game On!

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At 10:00 am on June 22 the slalom gates were hung for the first time in over 15 years. With only 2 days notice, over 100 people showed up and 32 signed up to race! Now “normal”slalom racing is against a clock, which is fun, but we wanted something a little different so the format became a head-to-head race with 2 boat categories; long boats and short boats. At 1:00 Barry turned on the water and 450 cubic feet per second rushed to fill the river channel. Features began forming in the river and soon the race course came to life. First up was the longboat class, which included two open canoes. Racers of all skill levels made their way through the course and soon enough 2 racers, Brian Pinnell and Jim Enns were set to compete in the finals. After the proverbial dust settled, Brian emerged as the winner of the longboat division!

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As always with any event there are things that happen that you didn’t anticipate. In the first round of the playboat class, Garrett Mathews was paired with Todd Whetstine. Todd flipped and missed a roll causing him to swim. Instead of finishing the race, Garrett did what you do on the river. He followed Todd to the bank to make sure he was okay. Did I mention how much I love the kayaking community? Classy move Garrett! And definitely one of the standout moments of the event. The playboat division moved on and it was Mike Hillis and Heath Day who were left in the finals. As they were getting ready for the final race I overheard them saying they were just going to put on a show! They didn’t disappoint! They were running neck and neck and it was more like bumper boats than racing! Heath edged out Mike and the first race in over 15 years came to an end.

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As with all Hometown Throwdowns there is an awards ceremony, but what is unique to these events is that the awards are not performance based! For this event we gave away around 200 bucks worth of prizes from national sponsors, Smith Optics, Mountain Khaki, Astral Buoyancy, and Jackson Kayak to name a few, awarded raffle style, so everyone took home something home other than memories. The next Throwdown is scheduled for July 13 at the Ouachita River Whitewater Park near Malvern. Whether you participate or spectate you don’t want to miss out!

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Now check out the video:

Dierks Whitewater Slalom Race 6-22-13 from kayakrivers on Vimeo.

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