By Ben Wiggins

Ah, yes…the season is upon us. I don’t mean spring wildflower season or trout fishing season-I mean festival season. Every weekend in the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can find a festival celebrating everything from peanuts to beer to kayaking and music.

I haven’t found a better way to knock the rust off of the festival machine gears than the North Alabama Whitewater Festival, also known as NAW Fest. This kayak-centric festival celebrated its fifth year in 2009 and has been growing steadily every year. Known for its laid-back atmosphere, remote location, competitive boating events, and relentless all night fun, it’s the perfect way for paddlers to kick off the festival season.

The festivities take place at the Kings Bend Campground on the Locust Fork of the Warrior River, about a half an hour outside Gadsden, Ala. There are four different events for competitors: a freestyle waterfall hucking competition, a downriver race, a big trick contest, and a freestyle competition. The waterfall competition and the downriver race take place at the 18-foot Short Creek Falls, while the freestyle contest and big trick contest take place at the campground itself. All competitions have categories from juniors to beginners all the way to pro class, which draws heavy hitters from around the region including the Jackson Kayaks family, Clay Wright, Tommy Yon, and Billy Harris.

NAW Fest however isn’t single minded when it comes to activities. This year the festival had free massages, free Terrapin beer, activities for kids, and bands all day and night. One of the most amusing activities was the jousting ring where festival-goers went head to head American Gladiator style trying to knock each other off of a pedestal with huge padded weapons that resembled Q-tips.

If you are looking for a way to shake out the cobwebs after a long winter of riding the recliner or a competitive kayaker trying to get things started early, NAWFest is the place to be.