October 30, 2022
by Valerie Burman
Last weekend the USRA hosted the California Raft Racing Championships at the Nugget on the South Fork American River. It was scheduled to give local teams an opportunity to race after the USRA National Raft Racing Championships in September were canceled due to smoke from the Mosquito Fire.
Raft racing is a niche competitive sport, at least it is in the US. But it is so much fun and is increasing in popularity with youth in our local community. 17 teens competed on 4 teams, along with the adults. The youth teams that competed include The California Poppies (U19 Women – Chloe’s team), a Boys Team (ages range from 13-16), a Co-Ed Team (ages range from 11-18), and Team Lotus Cadets (U14 Co-Ed – Alex’s team).
The Nugget is the perfect place to race. Especially in the fall. The weather is ideal. The scenery is beautiful. The access and logistics are easy. And the venue already has gates. The gate width is normally set for kayak and canoe slalom but with extenders the gates can be widened to create a raft slalom
For simplicity, the USRA decided to host the Sprint and the Head2Head at the slalom course venue too. This made for smooth logistics and the ability to run all 3 races the same day, within the same 3 hour water release window. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to then do a downriver race on Chili Bar – in the future the USRA may need to do the race over 2 days if teams want to include all 4 events.
To further keep logistics simple the teams shared boats, paddles, and gear. Family and friends served as start line boat holders, gate judges, timers, and provided safety. And awards were token medals. This gave the day a low key, inclusive, community feel even though it was a championship race.
Given the event’s success, I am hopeful that it will become an annual tradition. Beyond just being a great community event, It also gives teams more competition experience before heading into National and International events.
For those who want to learn more about raft racing internationally, Chloe wrote an article that was recently published in American Whitewater Magazine on page 21.