Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 Whitewater Open Canoe Downriver National Championships

First Timer’s Perspective – I Loved it! When I found out from Tom Blue that this year’s ACA Whitewater Open Canoe Downriver National Championships were going to be on the Nantahala, I jumped on the idea. I love racing wildwater in a decked canoe and this would be my chance this year to compete in a national level event. And I relished the idea of racing in open canoe nationals in the F-14 class (the class with the fastest allowable specifications) to see how I stack up in the sport. After all, I have done hundreds of runs down the Nanty in wildwater (decked) canoes and I got my start paddling in an open canoe. If only it was that simple For starters, it was hard really hard finding an F-14 boat. Fortunately, Allen Hedden volunteered to let me borrow his fiberglass We-no-nah Jenson. At first I was reluctant to borrow it. After all, it was a fiberglass lay up that I knew was bound to be heavy. And I knew what that meant from all of my wildwater racing experience. Every pound is a handicap and if the weight difference turned out to be more that 10-15 pounds, it could equate to a handicap that could keep me off the podium. Ultimately, Allen’s boat turned out to be the best option I could come up with and I was grateful to have it. After all, it was my ticket to get to race against our nations best in WWOC, so I went for it and outfitted it as best as I could for DR racing and raced with what ended up being a 20-30 pound handicap. The rules for WWOC DR racing seem to be somewhat overwhelming for new racers. I had asked a lot of questions leading up to the event and by race week I figured I had made all of the outfitting changes that I needed to make to the boat as race-worthy as possible. The only detail I missed was that my bow air bag exceeded the length of the 36” deck plate but I was lucky enough to be able to swap it out for the min-bag in the bow of my rec canoe. Then there are the 2 classifications of boats: F14 (the narrower faster boats where width must be at least 14.375% of the length) like the We-no-nah Jenson and the new design from Savage, and F16 (where the width must be at least 16+% of the length). These rules are strictly enforced and they DQ’d Chris Osment’s boat for being too skinny (as he had pulled his boat in at the gunnels to the point where it made it too skinny at the water line). My completely stock glass Wenonah turned out to have the opposite challenge; the manufacturer had pushed out the gunnels by several inches in this glass version over their race models and this made the boat wider at the gunnels and at water line, but at that point I was just happy to see that it passed. I found WWOC DR racing at the national level to be very similar to Wildwater Nationals. The sports are about the same size and both have some great folks in them. And like wildwater, WWOC has a number of really good athletes in the sport. For example, Jeff Owen, who is a high school science teacher in Maine and has a paddling program for his students, is also a many time national champion in multiple classes. Jeff was the overall winner both days in the two races I participated in (the OC-1 sprint and the top to bottom DR race). The Havens family, who I have known for several years, was there in full force raking up the medals. Zach was the National Champion in the F16 class and his parents As a result of the dimensional rules and the need for speed, the new F-14 C-1s have hulls similar to wildwater C-1s. They have decked as much of the boat as possible.
Jeff Owens’s Savage Boatworks OC-1 really demonstrates this. The first 3 feet of the boat are fully enclosed with carbon fiber. In addition, Savage has engineered the wing to be behind the paddler so that the boat is narrow for the full length of the stoke. The boat felt very similar to a Tip-Top C-1 with perhaps a bit more glide (because it is longer). And like Wildwater, a competitive C-1 is in the 25 pound range. But it’s not all about the boat. It’s about the skill set it takes to race OC as well as the thrill of competition and I was delighted to get to lay it all out there. I have not spent enough time in the boat at race pace to figure out how far I can push the boat into waves without taking on water. Candidly, I figure I did about as well as I possibly could have in the “sprint”. I ran the OC line on the right bank through Ferebee and pretty much ran my regular wildwater lines from there. It worked well, everything clicked, and I was 3rd overall. The top 3 finishers overall were: 1) Jeff Owens – 6:53 - Overall Winner – Overall National Champion 2) Zach Havens – 7:06 – 19-39 Age Group National Champion 3) John Pinyerd – 7:08 – Masters Age Group National Champion Link to all sprint results: The buzz on my second day of racing was over who was going to be the overall winner in the 8 mile Down River race. It was a match up between Jeff Owens, who has won several national titles in a row, and many time National Champion Dave Benner, whose canoe racing skills are legendary. Although I was pretty close in the “sprints” I quickly pooh-poohed on any talk of me besting them figuring that eight miles is a really long race for me, and the heavy boat would be an even bigger factor at this length. I also know I still have some details to iron out on what waves I can take on in open boat racing. And during the race I found I was over thinking the lines and I hurt myself at times by not easing off in the rapids and doing whatever it took to stay on a perfect line and remembering to always do the little tricks like leaning the boat away from the breaking waves.. Ultimately, I was glad to have finished as well as I did. The top 3 finishers overall were: 1) Jeff Owens – 52:02 – Overall Winner – Overall National Champion 2) David Benner – 53:34 – Masters Age Group National Champion 3) John Pinyerd – 55:00 – Second in Age group; 3rd overall Link to Down River Results: The buzz going into to the last day of racing (a day which I mistakenly opted out of racing and foolishly placed a higher priority on work) was how well Jeff and Dave would do teamed up in an OC-2. There was even talk of them doing the entire top Nanty in less than 50 minutes. I knew that kind of talk was just that, and they ultimately raced the course in 53:06 (which bested Dave’s individual time by about 30 seconds). Link to all Awards and Results: It was nice to see friends like the Osments there and Gabriella Schlidt (who won her F16 sprint age group). But I would love see more folks there! I would to do this again and have a couple dozen other SE racers with us. Seriously, when it was all said and done, this was a hoot!!!! And the question in the back of my mind between now and then will be…. Gee, I wonder how many medals we could all win if we all went for it? And how well I can do if I get the most competitive boat on the planet and train like I was going to a world championship? It’s those kinds of questions that have me racing for 3 decades and I hope to do this again.

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