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A Season in the USA: Part One

After spending the Winter in Sort doing some slalom and a few river-runs whenever they released some water, I was looking forward to paddling on some good whitewater in the US.

Even though the Gorge had had a fairly dry Winter without much rain or snowfall, rivers were still running, and it was great to get on some of my favourite sections once again. After paddling for a bit around the Gorge, an amazing surprise showed up, the new 9R II fresh out of the oven. Without having paddled the prototype myself, I didn’t really know what to expect before paddling it… it looked great at first sight, but maybe a tad big for me? Was it going to be better/faster/slower/easier than the original 9R? So many questions came up, only one way to find out!

Once in the water, the boat felt extremely good from the beginning; fast and easy to control, and the driest ride I’ve ever felt. The 9R II quickly became my day-to-day boat, no matter the river; racing, creeking, big water… Although different in many ways to its predecessor, the 9R II is without a doubt an amazing boat on its own!

Little White Salmon Race

The LW race is one of the most important events in the US and especially the PNW. Without a doubt, it’s one of my favourite festivals and racecourses out there; 15 minutes of continuous, crystal clear, class 4-5 whitewater through some of the thickest and most beautiful coastal forest I’ve seen. Having received the 9R II the same week of the race, and with only a few laps with the new boat, I wasn’t sure which one to choose for the race. After some thought, I decided to go with the 9R II and see how I did. I managed to have a great run pushing hard and styling the lines with the 9R II. The boat felt really fast and so dry flying over features thanks to its amazing rocker profile. I ended up taking the win with a good lead, so that reassured me this boat liked to go fast.

Big Fork Whitewater Festival, Montana

As is tradition, the last weekend of May is Big Fork time. Now on its 44th edition, it’s one of the oldest whitewater festivals in the US!

The location is amazing; just under Glacier National Park, Big Fork is located on the shores of Flathead Lake where the Swan River empties after a mile of continuous class, fun big water.

Due to the low snowfall this Winter, the river was running at some of the lowest flows I had seen it, however, the Wild Mile is still pretty fun no matter the flow, and the organizers did a great job setting up a nice and challenging course for the slalom. The event overall title is based on the upper Slalom (20 gates standard slalom with some pretty hard moves in plastic boats), a Downriver Time Trial down the Wild Mile, around 7 minutes of big water class III-IV, and a Giant Slalom down the same section with some must-make moves and gates. Overall, it’s a really fun weekend filled with many, many laps down the Wild Mile, and good times with the local community. I was happy to take my 4th title at the event, and once again the 9R II proved to be the perfect watercraft for the job.

GoPro Mountain Games Vail, Colorado

The GoPro Games Steep Creek Race is held on Homestake Creek, a low volume (manky) creek with a  few technical drops. It’s actually a very precise race since the lines are tight in between rocks and it’s held at 2600m above sea level, so you definitely feel the lack of oxygen at some point while sprinting through the course. Besides the creek race, the festival has many other events and disciplines all going on around the Vail village. Freestyle kayaking, slackline, dog competitions, bouldering World Cup, SUP races, rafting, biking, running… you name it! Overall, it’s a great multidiscipline event with great organization and infrastructure and something for everyone.

North Fork Championship, Idado

The NFC is without a doubt the biggest event of the season, now in its eighth year, the festival just keeps on getting bigger and better. This year, it was the World Championship, so everyone was even more fired up. With a great snowpack, flows were prime for the event. Right after Colorado, we rallied back to Banks to do a few laps before the event started with the Kokatat Qualifier down S-Turn rapid on Thursday, where the top 40 men would advance to the semifinals on Friday. Semifinals cut the field down to 20 for the Giant Slalom Final down Jake’s on Saturday. I was happy I made it into the final and was ready to try and do my best down Jakes. I had a sweet first run down Jakes, making all the gates with pretty smooth lines, but I lost quite a few seconds getting slowed down by the left curler at Taffy Puller and a few smaller holes down the Golf Course. In the end, I just missed the podium, placing 4th… I will have to pay more attention to the smaller features next time!

All in all, it’s been a great season in the US; paddling a lot, having fun, and feeling good in my boat, which is the most important. The 9R II has given a new touch to my paddling, and I’m really looking forward to continuing to push this boat and seeing how it does in other places and rivers. Let’s keep it rolling!

Thanks to Pyranha for their continued support, and for making boats that actually work and paddle well; you guys rock!