Kevin Sisson, from North Carolina, and I had signed up for the Mulberry Fork downriver race on Saturday, March 1st. We arrived a day early, like many other racers, for a practice run on the Mulberry. I had a chance to show Kevin the lines, at least where I could remember them.

The rain had stopped, the river had peaked at just 4.2 on the USGS gauge and the weather was improving. As we paddled down from the US 231 Bridge we warmed up and threw in a sprint or two. Our focus was on getting lines down on the rapids.

For the most part we had clean runs, with a couple of notable exceptions. At Eddy Hop I made the rapid more difficult than I needed to by cutting hard to the left after the midrock eddy; we both made it, but we had to zig-zag much more than we wanted. At 5-0 I compensated for my creeking line the previous Sunday by going far left. Instead of banging down ledges, I was dodging rocks at high speed! Afterwards we loaded up and headed over to the race camp for registration.

Race Day – Downriver

There were three events for the day: downriver, slalom (two runs) and then the chaotic boatercross. Kevin and I arrived early for the racers meeting at 7:00 a.m.; the race would start at 8:00 a.m at the bridge. After getting our bibs, the race director went over the rules (from the ICF): if we swim and self rescue, we can continue; if we are assisted by a safety boater we are disqualified.

The nineteen of us were divided into five classes and he went over our start order. I was in the Masters class (paddlers over 40); Kevin was in the Cruising Class, given his “youth” and that he was a novice. You remain a novice until you place in a race; Kevin’s novice status would be short lived.

We drove to the putin, unloaded our boats, and headed down to the river. After a brief warmup we congregated by the old bridge where the director went over our start order again; we would start at one minute intervals. Check out Kevin’s photo’s of us here (sorry, none of Kevin).

Soon it was time for me to be on deck. With the departure of the racer before I lined up at the start and waited for the ten second countdown. Three, two, one, Go! I was off. I paddled hard down through the shoals beneath the bridge, and then in the flat water to the next set of shoals, where the current bends left to right. There I eased off, realizing that the race would last at least 30 minutes or more for me.

For the next long section of flat water I resorted to “one on” “one off” drills to pace myself and hold some energy in reserve. I approached the sharp bend in the river to the left, with the first Class 2 drop. Arpad, the winner of my class, passed me as we approached the rapid. I kept pace for a short distance, but by the time we reached the next rapid he was gone!

The line was on the left through the big waves. My line was clean and then in the still water I focused on a steady, if not fast, pace. Soon I was at Eddy Hop, where I had a great line, using the eddy lines for speed and threading the Speeder through a series of rocks.

I didn’t realize it but Kevin was in my sixes. He then passed me and I paddled behind him to Lunchstop, where he went sailing over the ledge on the left. I don’t know why, but I followed him too! Soon he was well in front of me, but I did gain something of a second wind.

Before we reached Mary’s Hole, I started to pick up my pace and actually closed some distance with Kevin. I did slow down before Mary’s Hole and took my time through the rapid; I sailed over the ledge and hole far river left and then threaded a sweet line through the rocks and squirrelly currents.I was getting tired and I slowed my pace. I didn’t see Kevin again until the finish line.

5-0 Finish

I entered the rapid on the left and then started to work to the right. Again I didn’t paddle far enough to the right and was in a position where I had to thread a line through a series of rocks (at least I ran this crazy line on Friday). I cleared the rocks and then paddled hard to the left to ride the tongue down to the left of the wave.

Now it was a straight shot to the finish line; I could hear Kevin yelling, “Go Chuck!!!” I did make it. I finished fourth out of a field of four; as my daughter says I finished last. My time was 35:40; Arpad, who finished first, had a time of 29:22 (his time was only 8 second off of the field champion). Kevin did great; he tied for first in the Cruising Class with a time of 30:22.

Slalom Racing

At the end of the downriver race, we hauled our boats up the steep trail to camp, drank a Red Bull or two, and gathered around the Registration booth to await the official results. Afterward, we hike back down to the course to watch the end of the first round of slalom racing. After the break we walked up to the slalom put in and talked to Wendy Arthur and Gabriella Schlidt, who were getting ready for their second round. We walked downstream to find a good spot to cheer them on. I was in the middle of the course, near the judge for that section, where I was joined by Debbie Dargis and her daughter Brittney. She was there to cheer on Arlene, who I met that day. She was there to cheer me on too; thanks Debbie!

The slalom course was difficult, and it produced its fair share of carnage. It was especially difficulty for open boats, especially gates 2, 3, 4, which involved both tight turns and a ferry move over the large hole on river right. That flipped a number of open boats.

The most spectacular carnage was with a tandem crew, where the paddlers stayed upright after a side surf in the hole, only to drift downstream into a broach on a rock below. The boat snapped into two pieces! Everyone was okay.


The last event of the day was a chaotic slalom race. With a mass start, a mob of 20 boats or more had to catch two gates on the 5-0 course. In the race “anything goes” – it is legal to grab boats, pop skirts, block, etc. At the two gates the race was something more like a rugby scrum! In my photos I noticed that Kevin laid back, what is up with that? After the race, Kevin and others headed to the 5-0 wave for some surfing fun; I headed up to the rocks for a nap!

Class 5 Awards Ceremony

With Kevin’s first place finish we had committed ourselves to stay for the BBQ Dinner and the Awards Ceremony. We sat with Wendy and Gabriella, who also placed in slalom. Gabriella was part of the championship team for OC-2 as well. Way to go!

After the all the awards were distributed; Tony Diliberto started to hand out prizes. Tony was a great MC, with a quick wit and a good sense of humor. With the distribution of the prizes, he had Mark Cumnock helping him out. It started out innocently: for prizes if the ticket holder wasn’t present, Mark would throw the prize (usually a T-shirt) in the air for anyone who could grab it. The free for all continued with clothing prizes and then expanded to prizes in general, includingÿshin guards. The prize was meant to be elbow guards, but what arrived where shin guards. You had to stay alert and be ready to duck as sets of shin guards were flying through the big tent. It was all good fun.

Then Woody Callaway awarded as a prize a new Liquid Logic Remix. No, it was not tossed out into the crowd. The winner had to play and beat Woody at “paper, rock, and scissors.” After about five rounds it was down to two contenders with Woody. With the last round, only one of the contenders remained—the happy owner of a new kayak! I should also mention that Woody was also a race participant; it was his first slalom race! He placed second. It was good times, and good fun!

by Chuck Spornick
From The Eddy Line, April 2008