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Race Ahead: Paddling

Whitewater paddling


Cheat River Fest
Albright, West Virginia
May 4, 2013

The festival is a large fundraiser for Friends of the Cheat River, stewards of the health of the watershed. Last year’s event, the 17th annual, raised $25,000 for the organization. Over the years, Cheat Fest has incorporated more family- and kid-friendly activities to supplement their environmental and conservation focus. On Friday boaters line up at the mouth for the mass start of the Cheat River Canyon to run the “Mass-Occurrence” Downriver Race. Day-long Saturday festivities kick off with a 5K foot race and live music all day on the grounds. Along with last year’s record amount of funds raised, the festival saw its biggest attendance to date, with 3,300 people streaming through.

Tallulah Fest
Tallulah Falls, Georgia
April 12-14, 2013

In 1912, the Tallulah River was dammed above Tallulah Falls, once known as the Niagara of the South. What had been a major tourist attraction ceased to be until the mid-1990s when American Whitewater and other advocates secured a few weekends of release a year. The Tallulah became an instant classic, and is celebrated with unrestrained enthusiasm at Tallulah Fest, a weekend-long whitewater jamboree corresponding with one of two spring dam releases. Along with paddling down the ancient, 1000-feet-deep Tallulah River Gorge, festivalgoers delight in one of the wildest weekends in the South. Whitewater adventure films loop on huge screens, bluegrass blares through the night, and paddlers exchange war stories of the day’s activities and more around bonfires that burn through the morning.

French Broad River Fest
Hot Springs, North Carolina
May 3-5, 2013

Held at the Hot Springs Campground in Hot Springs, N.C., the French Broad River Fest is coming up on its 16th year and has something for everyone. The festival has raised over $100,000 for local charities and American Whitewater. Not bad for a festival in a town with only 650 permanent residents. The festival is held at the crossroads of the French Broad and Appalachian Trail, and draws thousands for its live music that has included bands such as The Gourds and Snake Oil Medicine Show. Revelers have the opportunity to “Paddle with a Pro,” running Section 9 with a professional paddler, or entering a rafting race that ends at the campground. If you would prefer to stay on dry land, enter the mountain bike race, free for festival attendees.

Gauley Fest
Summersville, West Virginia
September 20-21, 2013

For 29 years, there has been one constant through the craziness that was the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s: on the third weekend in September, Gauley Fest will be happening. Held on the banks of the Gauley in Summersville, W.V. the festival is the largest paddling fest in the world. Paddlers can also sell used or extra gear, and also pick up a few things they are missing. “It’s also a big fundraiser for American Whitewater, a national non-profit dedicated to conserving America’s whitewater resources. “You get three to five thousand people in a ballpark, so to speak, stuff happens,” says paddler Steve Ruth. “I haven’t seen a lot of ‘bad’ crazy stuff happen, but it definitely gets festive.”

Russell Fork Rendezvous
Elkhorn City, Kentucky
October 26-27, 2013

Dam releases on eastern Kentucky’s Russell Fork turn this river from a fairly mellow run into one of the East’s premier whitewater destinations. “It’s almost the anti-festival festival,” says Steve Ruth. “It’s sort of the counter-culture festival; we do weird things like a dance contest, things that don’t necessarily have to do with boating.” There is still plenty of paddling to be had at the Rendezvous, however. The Lord of the Fork downriver race is held in concurrence with the festival, and because it typically falls on the weekend before the Green River Race, many paddlers use it as a warm up.

Green River Narrows Race
Saluda, North Carolina
November 2, 2013

This class V whitewater has been a rite of passage for paddlers since the late 1980s. At high noon on the first Saturday in November for the past 17 years, the best paddlers on the East Coast gather at the Green for an iconic downriver race that has no entry fee, no qualifications, and no prize money. How can one of the most coveted titles in the whitewater world not come with a prize purse? The race originated as a friendly, grassroots affair among friends, and that is still at the heart of what makes the Green River Race go. Says 10-time participant Chris Gragtmans: “Gorgeous fall weather and colors, a crowd of 1,000 spectators cheering you on, and one of the most challenging race courses that has ever been raced. There’s nothing like having tunnel vision and facing your fears by dropping into the Notch (the crux drop of Gorilla), with that many people surrounding you. It’s like a Roman amphitheater.”

Best of the Rest

Jerry’s Baddle
Green River, North Carolina

Noc’s Spring Fling
Bryson City, North Carolina
April 26-28,

Potomac Whitewater Festival
Washington, D.C.

Smith River Fest
Martinsville, Virginia
August 10,

Ocoee Festival
Ducktown, Tennessee
August 31-September 1,

For more great Race Ahead information check out these sections:


Trail Running

Road Running

Mountain Biking

Road Cycling






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