Carnage on the River… ‘Full Contact’ Water Races

By Lauren Glendenning (courtesy Vail Daily)

The word of the day heard around Gore Creek in Vail, Colo., on Sunday at the GoPro Mountain Games was “carnage.” That’s because there was tons of it. From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., rafters, stand-up paddlers and kayakers just tried to make it to the finish line without suffering too much carnage.

Many succeeded, and plenty of others will have some nice bruises to show off to their friends and family members in the coming days.

It all began with the raft cross event, which compared to what followed, was relatively tame. Two-person teams paddled from the Covered Bridge to the International Bridge — the same stretch of water used for all three of Sunday’s final water events — racing other boats and trying to make it around gates in the water.

Raft Cross event

“It was furious, man,” competitor Mongo Reeder said. “You’ve got to come out of the hole hot — a lot of the race is right up here at the beginning.

Reeder talked about his win with his teammate Crash Cobb while sipping on a beer — a beer that someone handed to him from the river bank while they were still racing.

Cobb joked that the event used to give points for style, but not anymore. “We still provide the style,” he said.

A few minutes later, the carnage intensified with the stand-up paddle surf cross event. Like the raft cross, the competitors enter the water at the same time and try to make it to the finish line. The stand-up paddlers seemed to struggle a lot more with the obstacles in the river, though.

“It’s definitely chaos,” competitor Peter Hall said. “It’s like three people trying to fit through a space wide enough for one person, and it’s everybody pushing and trying to make sure they’re the one in that space. And if you’re not, you’re trying to knock someone else out to get in there. It’s just hectic.”

SUP’ing on down the river

Hectic is a nice way to put it. Seasoned stand-up paddlers like locals Ken Hoeve and Scott Stoughton ended up in the water. They were able to jump back on their boards and stand again, but none of the competitors ever really looked totally balanced or comfortable out there.

It was merely a sign of what was to come next.

“Some more hard battles are about to happen,” said Eric Jackson, who won the stand-up paddle cross and also competed in the kayak 8-ball event. “I’m going to get on some elbow pads and a full face mask — it’s going to get ugly now.”

Jackson was referring to the 8-ball event in which “8- ball kayakers” situated throughout the 200-meter course try to get in their way. The role of the 8-ball kayakers, according to the official rules of the event, “is to impede the forward progress of lead kayakers.”

And that’s exactly what they do.

“It’s a lot of chaos, a lot of mayhem,” Jackson said. “Too many people trying to get in too small of a spot, and there’s not enough room for everybody, so somebody’s not going to make it. It makes for an exciting race, for sure.”

‘8 Ballers’ block kayakers trying to paddle downstream

The men and women who compete risk overturning in their kayaks, getting hit in the face with paddles or boats, and sometimes worse.

But without such carnage on the river, it just wouldn’t feel right.

—Lauren Glendenning is the Assistant Managing Editor at the Vail Daily.

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Stephen Regenold is Founder and Editor-In-Chief of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for nearly two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of four small kids, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.

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