It wasn’t their first rodeo – but after a year lost to COVID-19 the whitewater paddlers of the Yukon were back in the saddle on Aug. 20.
On Friday night, the usual standing wave beneath the Rotary Centennial Bridge in Whitehorse was looking larger than usual, and so was the crowd of onlookers gathered above.
“With the high water, it kind of changed the wave from a normal hole to more of a bigger wave,” said Yukon Canoe and Kayak executive director Lawrence Brennan.
Brennan said the most interesting element in this year’s competition was the high water. Although flooding levels in the Southern Lakes region are now coming back down to normal, the high water levels had a major effect on the paddling season.
While some struggled to tame the high water and get a solid position ahead of the wave, others were able to adapt and perform a different style of tricks.
“You can see a couple of guys who grew up on the Ottawa definitely took advantage of that,” he said.
The competitions were divided into five events. Ruth O’Beirne took first place in beginner hardshell freestyle, with Robert Kunde coming second and Jocelyn Garnett coming in third.
In intermediate David Swinson took the top position, with Derrick Law coming second and Kailee Marland in third. In the advanced category Kent Bretzlaff came first, with Sam Penner second and Luke Morris in third.
Brennan added that although whitewater paddlers have been able to enjoy the high water at times this season, they also organized to help fill sandbags and make sure those negatively affected by the water were helped.
“I think it helps. Hopefully it balances out and pleases the river gods,” he said.
Packrafts were also a feature of the competition for the second time. In the “champion of the wave” event individuals, in their inflated boats, all took to the wave at the same time and struggled to not be swept downriver – with interference encouraged.
The last person remaining on the wave at the buzzer time is crowned winner. This year packraft champion of the wave went to Connor Oliver-Beebe.
“The idea of having three different disciplines kind of showcases [more paddling] and hopefully gets more people involved in it as well. And I’ve already had requests for a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) race for next year,” Brennan said. “It’s starting to kind of attract more people. There were a lot of new faces last night that I haven’t seen around the competition before this event.”
The final event was a rafting race down the stretch of the river near the bridge.
The winners of the rafting race were captain Sam Penner with crew Robert Kunde, Janelle Greeer, Peta Nolan and Jacob Wilson.
The events were followed by a beer garden and barbecue, and more races on Aug. 21 and 22 on the Tutshi River.
Contact Haley Ritchie at email@example.com