Thanks to the success of the 2013 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships, the Nantahala Gorge has won another bid to host an international championship, this time the 2015 ICF Junior Wildwater Canoeing World Championships.
Winning the event keeps world-class athletes training in the Nantahala Gorge for the next two years. It also changes the spotlight to a new discipline after years of focusing on freestyle. Wildwater racing, one of nine officially-recognized disciplines, is paddling’s equivalent of downhill skiing; it’s just a straight ahead race. There aren’t any gates like in slalom paddling, and no style points like in freestyle.
Wildwater races feature two different race courses. The “sprint” course is usually 500 to 750 meters. This exciting race usually takes less than two minutes. These results from last year’s junior worlds race in Lofer, Austria show times as low as 1:11 in the finals.
These close finishes point to exciting spectator events. The entire length of the course will likely be visible from the Founder’s Bridge at NOC, and the finish at the 2013 Wave will be very intense, with some racers separated by only tenths of seconds.
The “classic” course is the long-distance counterpart to the sprint. This course is usually around five miles. Last year competitors finished the course in about 10 to 13 minutes in the individual race, and the finishes in the men’s finals was still only separated by four seconds. The classic also features an interesting team event where three boats have to paddle together; the best time of the three boat teams wins.
So 2015 is going to be a another really interesting world championship year. But, you don’t have to wait until 2015 to get into the wildwater scene. Two early-season Nantahala Racing Club events, the Glacier Breaker and the Bank of America US Open, will have wildwater components. The ACA Open Canoe Downriver Nationals will have a similar format–and this is an open competition (no pun intended–sign up and compete). If you’re interested in participating in a wildwater race for fun this year, come to one of NOC’s Canoe Club Challenge races. And finally, the Junior Olympics, a multi-discipline paddling event that returns to the Nantahala River this August, will have several different wildwater competitions for aspiring athletes.
And for those just looking to get involved, the Nantahala Racing Club will be offering wildwater focused programming for youth and casual paddling sessions on the Nantahala. Stay tuned to the NRC website for more information on wildwater racing, as well as freestyle and slalom events.