If I said the water was running huge in Colorado, that wouldn’t begin to describe it. At FIBARK, one of the nation’s oldest boating festivals, in Salida, Colorado, the feature was nearly completely washed out. Several of the pros had sub-100 point rides in the finals and I couldn’t even match that. I posted a lot of details on FIBARK from last year, so feel free to check that post out because what really excited me was Gunnison, CO.
Gunnison is a tiny horse town below Crested Butte. I think Gunnison may be a Native American word for “land of mosquitoes.” Blood loss aside, the Gunnison river was flowing near 4000 cfs and the whitewater park had just recently added a new feature up top, which they kinda expected to be an improved wave, but ended up being the biggest, thrashiest hole any of us had ever intentionally surfed. When we first rolled in on wednesday and asked the locals about it, they simply said, “stay out of that one.”
With everything else washed out, that seemed like the only game in town. So we timidly started playing in it. Both shoulders were elevated and the boil line sucked you back from nearly 10 feet downstream, so flushing was not really a problem. After we got used to it, getting out wasn’t really much of an issue, and the random and accidental beatdowns and extended face-surfs actually started to get comical and make things fun. By the time competition day rolled around, we mostly had it dialed and that was the exciting thing.
This feature was built over the winter at low water. Nobody, but nobody, had seen people throwing down in it yet. It looked big and ugly and the local guys kept out, so we were able to introduce the town to their own feature as well as throw some of the first big loops and other tricks they had ever seen, since their only previous feature was a small wave.
After the main competition, during which I was knocked off the podium by a lousy 10 points (that is the point equivalent of one flat spin) we had a big air competition. We all had a few beers in us by then, but saddled up and had a great time, sometimes surfing two or three at a time in the hole to the delight of the small crowd. Team Pyranha’s Craig Kleckner and I got big cheers when we threw synchronized McNasties (that is a back surf that rotates 180 degrees into a front loop.) However it was pointed out to us that we shouldn’t carry our coordinated efforts too far, because, just like in synchronized swimming, it just might spell the beginning of the end of the sport.
You can get an idea of how powerful this feature was by looking at some of the raft rodeo pictures. I don’t think any of the rafts made it through without flipping, but that was kind of the point. The area also has a classic creek run, O Be Joyful, that was too high for me to get on before I left, but Pete managed to get on it a couple of days later. Now I can’t wait to get back to Reno and get on our rivers and in our whitewater park again, which I see has been flowing huge the whole time I have been gone. If freestyle kayaking and playboating is starting to seem interesting to you, wait until the park gets down under 1500 cfs and borrow or rent a boat from Reno Mountain Sports and see what you have been missing. If you find me down there, I’ll help you get airborn!