Photo: Paul Kelly

Outdoors athletes have many different ways of measuring a successful season. Some measure it through competition results; others through personal progression. One overriding commonality that seems to exist among athletes from all sports is tabulating the number of days spent doing what they love.

For whitewater kayakers, canoers, rafters, and riverboarders, there is an event that channels this energy while also raising money for a very good cause: the EddyFlower Vertical Challenge. The premise of the Vertical Challenge is simple: team up with other paddlers and drop as much elevation as humanly possible in one month. These teams work together to paddle and record their runs, and rally together to raise money for First Descents, a kayaking cancer camp for young adults.

Eddyflower Vertical ChallengeThe Vertical Challenge runs from April 1 to May 2 on the East Coast. Now in its sixth year, the event is as much about the community as the competition. Paddlers of all ability levels are welcome to participate, and last year over 100 boaters spent an entire month chasing water and ticking off runs in the online portal to increase their accumulated total vertical feet.

“This competition is growing because people think of it as getting back to the soul of the sport,” says EddyFlower co-owner Justin Bellucci. “It’s all about just getting out with your friends and lapping your favorite runs.”

The event this year will be ramped up even more with the presence of an East Coast category as well as the traditional West Coast contingent. The long-standing rivalry between these two paddling meccas will surely come out in the competition, and there will be only one overall winning team.

In spite of this competitive aspect, everyone still remembers the root cause for the event: helping those who are struggling with cancer. First Descents is an organization based out of Denver, Colorado, that was originally founded by professional kayaker Brad Ludden.

Since its inception, First Descents has created something unique for cancer victims and survivors: outdoors experiences that help them to regain the confidence and self-efficacy lost to the disease. The week-long camps are designed to facilitate happy, natural and organic healing. The camps are also a wonderful place to connect them with others and create lifelong friendships. 2012 will be a huge year for First Descents, as the organization will host over 40 camps in 10 states.

The EddyFlower Vertical Challenge raised over $15,000 last year, and is shooting for a much larger number this time around. The donations are tax deductible, and all of the revenue from donors and sponsors goes directly to First Descents.

Participants are also competing for some impressive prizes. A number of industry leaders have stepped forward as sponsors, and kayaks, helmets, shoes, and other prizes will be given away at the awards ceremony to the top competitors and fundraisers.