Henry David Thoreau is widely credited with the paddle-sport chestnut, “Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll go canoeing.”
The etiology of that gem notwithstanding, for the past 30 years, the waters of the Southern Appalachians have been making believers out of a whole lot of people.
The Mountain Sports Festival celebrates our region’s love of paddle sports with a couple of unique competitions on native waters, plus a demo day at Lake Julian Park. The three events are open to boaters of all skill levels.
The plan for the races is to mix a bit of healthy competition, loads of scenic landscape and (perhaps most importantly) a hefty measure of comic relief.
The French Broad Paddle Challenge
[A 16-mile race on the French Broad River (presented by RiverLink), 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 7 at Westfeldt Park.]
Last year’s inaugural Challenge saw 22 boats and 27 paddlers participate in the 16-mile race. Men’s champion Mark Matthews will be back this year, volunteering his time in the safety boat instead of defending his title and course record of two hours, 24 minutes, 33 seconds. The ’02 overall women’s champ, Rachel Monderer, recorded an outstanding time of 2:47:29.
The men’s course record may be in jeopardy as 15-time national-champion paddler and two-time Olympian Lecky Haller enters this year’s field. Haller’s wife, Nicole, will also be competing in the women’s division of the challenge.
Don’t let fast times and sleek boats intimidate you, though; this race is more about river appreciation than brutal competition. Last year, for instance, Lani Anderson teamed up with a certain Xpress reporter in what Anderson described as a “behemoth of a boat.” Paddling tandem in a Dagger Legend, Anderson and company (billing themselves as the Paddling Padres) managed to squeak out a third-place finish in the Men’s Tandem Division.
Anderson, who plans to take another whack at this year’s Challenge, says, “I even thought about taking my fishing gear, but just couldn’t manage it all in one trip.”
The race features an exciting regatta start, with all crafts nosing the starting line. When the gun goes off, the river explodes as boaters vie for the lead. After about five minutes of anaerobic paddling, though, most folks relax and settle into a rhythm that holds steady for two or three hours.
So what should first-time participants expect?
“Last year,” says Anderson, “I had the feeling that no one really viewed this as a race but more of an individual time trial and, more importantly, a great excuse to spend some time on the water.”
Take exit 9 off Interstate 26. Travel west on Hwy. 280 past the airport and turn right onto Fanning Bridge Road. Westfeldt Park is on your left. The finish line is at the Southern Waterways outpost (521 Amboy Road in Asheville). Shuttle service for participants from Southern Waterways to Westfeldt Park at 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. on Saturday, June 7.
$45/individuals, $70/two-person team. Visit www.riverlink.org for a registration form.
Who to watch
Two-time Olympian Lecky Haller and Xpress Managing Editor Cecil Bothwell.
Best viewing spots
Westfeldt Park (start) and Southern Waterways (finish).
Contact French Broad Riverkeeper Phillip Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subaru NOC Fontana Flatwater Dash
[A six-mile, flat-water canoe-and-sea kayak (presented by Nantahala Outdoor Center), noon on Saturday, June 7 at Big Wesser along the narrow section of Fontana Lake.]
About 70 miles west of the Mountain Sports Festival center, in an area some folks label “the outdoor-adventure capital of the Great Smoky Mountains,” Subaru and Nantahala Outdoor Center will host the Fontana Flatwater Dash.
The Dash is designed to be a fun — yet challenging — paddle-sport event that’s equally suitable for a beginner in a “beater” boat or for an Olympic-caliber racer in a sprint kayak. I’ve taken part in both individual and team competitions at NOC’s Tsali Challenge and the Outdoorsman Triathlon (one of the oldest multi-sport events in the country), and NOC gets my vote for organizing some of the finest races in the nation, from multi-day adventure events to world-class whitewater competitions. Dash participants can expect the same — competitors spanning a wide range of skill levels, perfect race management, and a whole lot of fun!
The six-mile, flat-water canoe-and-sea-kayak race on a narrow section of Fontana Lake includes a variety of classes, from a racing-specific Pro Kayak Division to an open-canoe class (see categories listed below). Although the competition will begin with a mass start, awards and placings for individuals and teams will be done by class.
According to race organizers, expert boaters should be able to complete the out-and-back course in just under 45 minutes; recreational boaters may take as long as 90 minutes.
Classes (separate categories for men and women): Kayak 14 Foot (Swift, Keowee, Blackwater); Kayak 14-16 Foot (Looksha Sport, Savannah, Carolina); Kayak 16-18 foot (Looksha IV, Cortez, Captiva), Kayak 18-20 foot (Looksha II & III, Cortex Comp); Pro Kayak (racing-specific kayaks, wildwater, sprint, etc.); Canoe 17 Foot (Legend, Explorer, Reflection … Royalex); Canoe USCA Cruiser; Canoe USCA Pro Solo (men, women and mixed); and Canoe USAC Pro Tandem (men, women and mixed).
From Asheville, follow I-40 West toward Knoxville. Take exit 27 onto U.S. 74 West toward Waynesville. At that point, it’s another 50 miles to the NOC parking area. Stay on 74 West. Eight miles west of Bryson City, the four-lane highway will split into two two-lane roads; stay in the left lane (Hwy. 74 West), going another 5 miles. On the last descent, look for a yellow caution light indicating you are entering the Nantahala Gorge. Take the first right and cross the concrete bridge spanning the Nantahala River, then take a left up the parking lot/gravel drive across from the NOC Outfitter’s store. Check in at the information office across from the outfitter’s store.
Best viewing spots
The start and finish line located at Big Wesser.
Outdoor Xposure Kayak Demo
[A kayak demo (presented by Outdoor Xposure), 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, June 7 at Lake Julian Park.]
Competition not the fire in your blood? “Come out to Lake Julian and try the newest and coolest kayaks on the water!” urges Jeff Russell, general manager of Outdoor Xposure, an outfitter in the Westgate Shopping Center.
This year’s demo will feature kayaks from Sun, Riot, Hobie and more. “Be the first to paddle or pedal the Hobie “Mirage Drive” kayak,” suggests Russell. The sit-on-top kayak introduces a pedal-drive system that Russell maintains is “fun for everyone … from children to adults.”
The demo will also feature the latest designs in both touring and whitewater boats.
Staff will be on hand to answer questions and offer basic instruction. Outdoor Xposure will provide all necessary equipment, including paddles and personal flotation devices.
From downtown Asheville, take I-240 West to I-26 East. Take exit 6 and turn left onto Long Shoals Road. After about one mile, turn right into Lake Julian Park.
Call Outdoor Xposure at (828) 350-0500, or visit www.outdoorxposure.com.