Paddling

If you look like a duck and act like a duck, then whet your quacker on these: two eight-mile canoe races, one a flat-water river run for paddlers of any skill level, plus a raft race featuring class IV rapids. It’s all part of the fun at the Mountain Sports Festival presented by RBC Centura.

Last year’s festival found me in my first canoe race since Boy Scout camp, nearly 40 years before, and did I ever have a blast! After 16 miles of solo paddling as fast as I could with only four pauses to suck water from my sports bottle, I was exhausted. I staggered up the landing, legs and arms turned to rubber, but ready to do it all again. Call it the thrill of defeat.

Quality Forward French Broad River Race

The stretch of river from Bent Creek to Southern Waterways is wide and shallow, with a few riffles. The tree-lined banks conceal highways and a train track, as well as Biltmore Estate with its horses, grapes and tourists (you may even get a glimpse of the Big House). The race spans eight river miles — long enough to sort the pack, but short enough that the top placers may still manage a spirited finish. There’ll be nine awards covering several categories: solo (women’s and men’s), tandem and family. Canoe rentals, parking and shuttles are available at Southern Waterways on Amboy Road in Asheville. Racers must be at least 5 years old, and children 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

The race is sponsored by Buncombe County Parks and Recreation Services, Southern Waterways and the WNC Paddlers Club.

White-water Raft Race

White-water rafting can be a hoot or a harrowing, white-knuckle ride, depending on the pilot’s skill, the river conditions, the mood of the crew — and luck. Less taxing on the muscles than flat-water racing, it’s also more dangerous. This event will take contestants through class I-IV rapids on a breathtakingly beautiful, eight-mile stretch of the French Broad River in Madison County, from Barnard to Hot Springs. The partly exposed river boulders, sheer cliffs and ever-changing swath of sky framed by looming green mountains make for scenery that’s at least halfway to heaven. Each raft will carry six people plus a guide (to be provided, along with life jackets and helmets). You can assemble your own team or be matched up with strangers for a day of foam and fun.

A shared event with the seventh annual French Broad River Festival (which is happening the same weekend in the picturesque mountain town of Hot Springs, N.C.), the race benefits the American Whitewater Affiliation and cancer survivor Mark Mickey.

Sponsors include: Aire, Astral Buoyancy, Cheney Graphics, Clavey River Supply, Highland Brewing Co., Huck Finn River Adventures, Kinko’s, Liquidlogic Kayaks, Teva Sandals, Northwest River Supplies, Pyranha Kayaks, Seventy-two dpi, Smith Optics, Sunburst Realty, Warren Wilson College, and Watershed Waterproof Drybags and Luggage.

Pre-registration is required.

Quality Forward French Broad River Race

This eight-mile, flat-water canoe race for paddlers of any skill level can be run either solo, tandem or family-style. The event happens Saturday, May 8 at Southern Waterways in West Asheville. Race time is 2 p.m.

Directions

Coming from the west, take Interstate 240 east to the Amboy Road exit and then the first extremely hard right onto a dirt road. Southern Waterways will be on your left. Coming from the east, take I-240 west to the Brevard Road exit, turn left and left again (putting you back onto I-240 east), then follow the previous directions.

Registration

The cost is $20 per person (through Friday, May 7), $25 per person on race day, free for children 14 and under. Advance registration is at Quality Forward (29 Page Ave. in Asheville; 254-1776). Race-day registration happens 12:30-1:30 p.m. at Southern Waterways. For more info, contact Quality Forward (www.qualityforward.org).

Awards

Nine awards total, in solo (women’s and men’s), tandem and family categories.

Best viewing spots

Watch the whole crowd take off in a regatta-style start at Bent Creek River Park (Hwy. 191 south of Asheville), or hang out at Southern Waterways on Amboy Road to see the flailing paddles as the finishers hit the landing.

White-water Raft Race

An eight-mile race over class I-IV white water amid beautiful mountain scenery. Racers may either form their own six-person teams or be matched up with strangers on race day. No skills needed; raft guides and equipment provided. The event happens Saturday, May 8, starting at 11 a.m. Racers will meet at the Hot Springs Campground at 9:30 a.m. The race will last 2-4 hours, depending on the water level and the paddlers’ energy level.

Directions

The Hot Springs Campground is 35 miles northwest of Asheville (about a one-hour drive). Take Hwy. 19/23 north to Hwy. 25/70 west; stay on 25/70 (which becomes a scenic, winding mountain road) all the way to Hot Springs. Immediately after crossing the French Broad River, you’ll see the Hot Springs Campground on the left.

Registration

The cost is $300 per raft, or $50 per person. You can register online (www.FrenchBroadRiverFestival.com). On race day, the shuttle departs from the Hot Springs Campground at 10 a.m. to transport paddlers to the put-in at Barnard. The race ends at Hot Springs, where competitors can pick up their vehicles.

Best viewing spots

Quality Forward French Broad River Race: Watch the whole crowd take off in the regatta-style start at Bent Creek River Park (Hwy. 191 south of Asheville), or hang out at Southern Waterways on Amboy Road to see the flailing paddles as the finishers hit the landing.

Best viewing spots

White-water Raft Race: The best way to take in the action — short of joining a crew yourself — is from the midway point at the Stackhouse river access (this can be hard to find; consult local outfitters or the U.S. Forest Service for directions) or the finish at the Hot Springs Campground.

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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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