Brave the Blue Ridge’s most bone-chilling boating race

The Saluda Boyz (that’s right, with a ‘z’) boast nicknames like Big Time, On Time, BDK (big dumb kid), Rodeo Star, Blokhead, F’n Curtis, Scarby, Scoob and The High Priest of Downtime. These wild paddlers are the ambassadors of whitewater fun in the Southeast, and the epitome of their efforts is the Iceman, a kayak race on South Carolina’s Saluda River near Columbia, held every January since 2001.

“Doesn’t everyone enjoy a good swim in the middle of January?”  says race co-founder, Andy Grizzell, who developed the event ten years ago.  There are two separate races at the Iceman: the Millrace Massacre and the Iceman Championships. The Millrace is a short, sprint where paddlers must catch specific eddies and avoid natural river obstacles.  They race the clock in a class III rapids, while competing against top-level pros like Chris Gragtmans, Andrew Holcombe, Chris Harjes, and Olympian Pablo McCandless.

Chills and thrills: Paddlers in The Iceman Championships endure the ice-cold winter whitewater of the Saluda River.

Winning the Millrace means taking the cash purse, which is usually a couple hundred bucks.  However, the Iceman winner really takes home the glory.  The Iceman is technically a triathlon involving paddling, swimming, and running while carrying a boat. Paddlers sprint down Millrace Rapid, then paddle upstream against the current to catch an eddy, get out of their boats and run uphill while carrying their boats to the top of the rapid, paddle the rapid again, and then swim with their boat and gear to the shore.

“Even though the whitewater isn’t as hardcore as some races, most top racers who have done it have respect for the endurance required,” explains Hall.

Safety is of utmost concern for the Iceman event, adds race co-organizer Joey Hall. And all skill levels participate in the race. Some racers set the goal of just running the course. Others try to beat one of the other Saluda Boyz. And a handful of elites aim for the money.

“For many Southeastern boaters, just surviving the race is a milestone in their paddling career,” says Grizzell.

Every Iceman Championship ends with smiles, high fives, shivering bodies and a party to celebrate the river community and a new year of paddling. And in true Saluda Boyz fashion, the top ten placers are asked to race a final round through Millrace Rapid in inner tubes.

Visit Saludayakerz.com to find out about next year’s race.