Locust Fork Whitewater Classic
Locust Fork, Ala., March 22-23

As the third and final race of the Alabama Cup Racing Series, the Locust Fork Classic offers two full days for downriver, boater cross, and novice slalom competitions. The course is located on the scenic class II-III Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. The river is the second longest of only ten free-flowing rivers left in Alabama. A raffle, silent auction, local food, and live entertainment also take place in conjunction with the races, making it an all-around awesome event for celebrating Alabama’s rivers. alabamacupraces.com

French Broad River Fest
Hot Springs, N.C., May 2-4

Although not nearly as competitive in nature as these other events, this river festival brings paddling enthusiasts of every kind to the banks of the French Broad. Attendees can plan to paddle the class II-IV Section 9 during the day and then catch some amazing tunes at night. In the past, such artists as Yarn and Sol Driven Trail have performed. The festival also hosts the annual raft race, which many claim to be the “biggest mass-start whitewater raft race in the Southeast.” The race begins in Barnard, N.C. and ends 9 miles later at the festival grounds in Hot Springs, so all you’ll need are boats, camping stuff, and a shuttle bunny. frenchbroadriverfestival.com

Potomac River Festival
Washington, D.C., July 4-6

From a whitewater SUP race to a kayak attainment race and the world renowned Great Falls Race, this river festival is a highly regarded event among the paddling community and is located just a short drive from the nation’s capital. Hang out all weekend and catch some live music, race video recaps, and free food and beer. anadventures.com

Lord of the Fork
Elkhorn City, Ky., October 25-26

Local races on the Russell Fork Gorge have been going on since the early ‘90s, but it wasn’t until 1995 that the event started being timed. In just a few years, the race started attracting elite paddlers from around the world. The Lord of the Fork was named for a fellow kayaking enthusiast Jon Lord who died at the Tower rapid in 2004. Lord’s love for the sport continues to live on through the talented boaters that come to challenge themselves every year in the heart of the Cumberland Plateau. russellfork.info

Green River Narrows Race
Saluda, N.C., November 1

The weekend after the Lord of the Fork race typically sees many of the same competitors at one of the biggest paddling events in the world: the Green Race. Every year since 1996, this remote section of world-renowned class V whitewater sees hundreds of paddlers and spectators alike looking to get a taste of the Green. Finished racers and bystanders can hike down to one of the most carnage-prone rapids, Gorilla, to watch the action unfold. greenrace.amongstit.com

For the Very First Time

Kayaker Jack Ditty first became acquainted with eastern Kentucky’s Russell Fork Gorge when he was just a rambunctious high schooler out exploring one day with his friends.

“We wanted to hike from the bottom to the top,” Ditty says. “What ended up happening was us getting stuck out there in the middle of the night with no lights or anything. Back then, we didn’t even know the railroad tracks were there, so we swam across the river and scrambled over boulders until we made it out at 2am.”

Ditty would go on to paddle the Gorge just a couple years later, building on an already-important relationship with the area and the river. His connection to the region would later inspire him to help organize an event that celebrated those two things exactly: that event was the Lord of the Fork downriver race.

“People try to pin me as the ‘race director,’ but I prefer being just someone who ‘helps organize,’” Ditty says. “From an organizational standpoint the biggest challenge is keeping it safe. There are a lot of undercuts and lots of hazards. It’s hard to protect from all of them with our limited volunteer staff.”

Despite their limited resources, the volunteers for the Lord of the Fork always manage to put on a top-notch race that brings some of the world’s best class V whitewater paddlers. With big, pushy rapids and a seven-minute time limit, serious kayakers can use this fall race as a chance to get out and knock some rust off before the Green Race.

“I think one of the coolest things is the atmosphere in October,” Ditty says. “The town is really open to paddlers coming in, and it’s such a unique environment because it’s so isolated. It’s definitely one of the more spectacular rock gorges in the East.”

Although paddler by heart, Ditty has started exploring the world of off-road triathlons and adventure race events. The local Russell Fork Baddlun (that’s bike, paddle, run combined) takes place during the second weekend in October and is a fun, community-run event. The Jerry’s Baddle duathlon and the big adventure race at the Green River Games are also high on Ditty’s 2014 adventure calendar.

Best of the Rest

Mulberry Fork Canoe & Kayak Race
Locust Fork, Ala., March 1-2 • alabamacupraces.com

Lula Bridge Race
Gainesville, Ga., March 22 • lckc.org

East Coast Paddlesports and Outdoor Festival
Charleston, S.C., April 11-13 • seakayakcarolina.com

French Broad Classique
Asheville, N.C., April 26-27 • fbcanoeracing.org 

Tallulah Fest
Tallulah Falls, Ga., April • bbbpaddling.com

Cheat River Fest
Albright, W. Va., May 3 • cheat.org

Rivanna River Regatta
Charlottesville, Va., May 10 • rivannaregatta.blogspot.com

Boater Chick Festival
Topton, N.C., May  • boaterchickfestival.info

Annual Benscreek Canoe Club Whitewater Rendezvous
Johnstown, Penn., May 16-18 • benscreekcanoeclub.com

Back to the Chattahoochee River Race & Festival
Roswell, Ga., June 15 • chattahoochee.org

Whitewater Open Canoe Downriver Competition
Nantahala River, N.C., June 17-19 • americancanoe.org

Southern Raft Supply Mountain SUP Race
Saluda, N.C., September • greenrivergames.com

Gauley Fest
Summersville, W. Va., September 20-21 • americanwhitewater.org

Guest Appreciation Festival
Bryson City, N.C., September • noc.com

_______________

Check Out Our Other Race Ahead Guides

Trail Running

Road Running

Road Biking

Mountain Biking

Climbing

Paddling

Multisports

Snowsports