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Feather Fest, Now and Then

As Galen Volchausen and I watched cars, trucks, and vans pull into the small abandoned school called Indian Jims, not the most PC name but that’s the name, we watched the campsite fill up and I remembered when my family used to come here on the same weekend years before it became a large west coast paddling gathering. The campground is beside the North Fork of the Feather River just out side of Orville California, east of Chico.



Feather Racers Gathering

Fall colors were starting to pop and the air was cool with a slight breeze that made it pleasant and not too cold. As more kayakers entered and our camp started to fill with familiar faces, some I had seen recently and others I had not, you could almost feel the energy that would reach a high point and evolved into the largest kayak festivals on the west coast, known as Feather Fest.
Feather Fest started as one man’s birthday party. Roland Mcnutt’s birthday happened to fall on an AW (American Whitewater) organized release of the North fork of the Feather. Slowly his birthday parties grew and grew in popularity and I can remember being around 13 at my first Feather release/ Roland’s birthday and soon it became Feather Fest, known through the west coast for its party, race, and California life style. The release happens on the last weekend in September, which by this point all the water on the west coast is gone or at summer flows and the only runs are usually dam releases or commercially rafted sections.



The section of river that the dam releases is great place for all skill levels. The upper section known as the Rock Creek section, named after the dam that
releases, is a class 2-3 section of whitewater great for beginner kayakers and rafters. The campground and ground zero for the festival is the take out and you can put
on there for the Tobin section. The Tobin is a great class 4-5 run that only lasts a mile and a half. There are many lines through the mile and a half of classic California granite boulder gardens. It’s real easy to get lost sometimes in the Tobin section due to all the channels and slots, but still many age groups paddle this section.


This was my first class 5 run, and its pretty cool that I did that in a Pyranna MicroBat when I was around thirteen. Now kids as young as nine race and paddle this section; a true testament to the growth of our sport. The Tobin section ends and a great 3+/4 section called Lobin is next. Lobin is a great stepping stone run with good moves and some
consequences for messing those moves up. Rafters and kayakers alike both run this section and it rounds off the river release with a good intermediate run making the Feather river a great place for all skill levels and ages.
Feather fest also offers multiple races during the weekend; there is a slalom race just upstream of the campground as well as a down river race through Tobin section and ends half way down the Lobin. The race is a tough one, I have raced it now twice in my lifetime, because the river doesn’t run consitently enough for people to have it super dialed and know which channels are the fastest. Racers can race long boat and short boat making it an iron man race if they choose. I chose to do that and it was pretty comical in my head. As I was reaching the last minute of the long boat race, which my time was 13.21, I was thinking to myself, why did you sign up for short boat as well? At the end of the long boat race I caught a ride back up with Gareth Tate and a few other racers, had a quick dance party, and went to grab my short boat.
My short boat of choice for all things right now is the 9R. I love that boat, but for this race I was taking out a new steed for myself to meld with. I raced the new Pyranha Machno.
I have paddled this boat a few times and like the design. It’s quick for a boat designed just to run anything and boofs amazingly. The bow of the boat was easy to keep dry and it was
easy to maneuver. In the end it served me well for the short boat class even though I suffered through the entire race. In the end team Pyranha came out pretty well. Dave
Fusilli tied for second with Rush Sturges in short boat with Ian Jonska coming in 5th and myself in 6th. I placed third in the long boat category as well. Will Pruett took home
the title of Champion wining both the short and long boat class.
The best part of any kayaking festival is the party, hands down.


I always feel like letting loose after making myself race hard, fast, and loose. Its just that little reward that makes you paddle that much harder. As well with the party there
was a raffle to benefit American Whitewater, who makes these releases reality. Pyranha donated a sweet Teal purple Loki for the silent auction and Dave, Ian and I
answered questions about our boats. Later in the night the band came on that was super groovy. After they were done a DJ, who just came back from Burning Man with
his art car, kept the party going till the early morning, and in the morning everyone was moving slow. Major thanks to Dave Steindorf for making the release happen and
putting on a great time.
Till the next eddy…
Kyle Hull
Photos:  Dave Fusilli