Thursday, September 5, 2013

Slave River Paddle Festival - put this one on your calendar in 2014!

Nikki Rekman Sales Team Member Luke Vollmerhaus travelled North, way North to Fort Smith, NWT for the Slave River Paddle Festival.  You have got to get this one on your to do list in 2014!
What’s up fellow river lovers? I just got back from The North West territories and have some tales for y’all!

Photo: Chuck Blyth
We spent a grand total of 8 days in this beautiful area. Before I say anymore I have to express the feeling of awe that washes over every paddler and land lubber alike upon first sight of this river. The flow rate ranges from 2000-7000 cubic metres per second in an average year and has been known to spike upwards of 10,000 CMS in super flood years. That’s a lot of water, that’s roughly 25 times the size of the bow river through Calgary and roughly doubles the size of the Zambezi at Victoria Falls to give you some perspective. 

This kind of volume creates a very unique river environment and some truly awe-striking features.  Another rare occurrence on this river is to have enormous class 4-5 features available with class 2-3 consequences. There are no trees, no undercuts. The worst that can happen is some bad down time or a big swim, as long as you’re with a buddy it’s a very safe river.    
Photo: Chuck Blyth
Enough about the river for a moment; our purpose in Fort Smith centered on the Slave River Paddle fest. We arrived 4 days before the festival and taught a number of beginner and intermediate youth and adult Clinics. This made for long but very enjoyable and rewarding 4 days. It’s such a wonderful and eager paddling community. I had half a day between the lessons and paddle fest to explore the mountain portage rapids (one of the four sets of rapids on the Slave River). Led by Natalie, Leif and John I got to see and surf some of the local favourites. Sweet Spot is big surging surf wave on the top ledge. It puts the surfer elbow deep in all-you-can-eat air time; the bounces that can be achieved on this feature were so foreign to me coming from the creeking power house of southern Alberta. It’s truly an exhilarating ride. This wave lies behind the notorious and formidable Molly’s Nipple; one of the biggest holes I have ever seen. Photos really don’t do this justice; you have to sit in the eddy beside it, see the ramp 12 feet over your head and hear its roar to appreciate its size and power. Hangover cure and chico are two of the other quality waves on that run at that level (4700 cms) and were a blast to surf.
Photo: Chuck Blyth

Friday afternoon started with the Canoe races across the river just below the town. 2 man and 7 man canoes were provided for the racers, the 7 man in particular was a really fun race. On Saturday full festival events came into action, rolling course in the morning, SUP lessons, Raft and dynamic Duo rides and the start of competition. We had the beach ball race (guiding your own teams ball down the rapids and misguiding other team’s beach balls) the advanced freestyle competition and the Tandem Canoe Surf and Rescue competition. The Surf and Rescue involves several teams, you’re first timed on how long you can surf the canoe in the playground wave and then you intentionally bail and another team rescues you. Your surf time and rescue time are subtracted for a definitive overall time. The day finished with a delicious meal at Anna’s restaurant. A Hawaiian themed shindig at the local curling lounge made for a memorable evening. Sunday held more competitions centered on beginner and intermediate kayakers, freestyle competitions, a down river race through the playground wave train and a throw bagging competition were all part of the day. My favourite part about this festival is its ability to cater to all skill levels, there were individuals attending and participating that hadn’t even been in a kayak before the weekend and there were world class boaters who were equally entertained with the advanced race and freestyle competitions.

Photo: Chuck Blyth
Before I said good bye to Fort Smith on Monday they had one last surprise for me. A wave called roller coaster had just started to come in, we decided to stage the Big Air Competition on this wave. It’s a smoother surf than sweet spot but with proper technique releases just as much energy in a bounce. We spent the better part of the day surfing and lounging in the sun on the rocks. Finally the moment came to say good bye to the marvelous, welcoming and incredibly hospitable community of Fort Smith and drive the long road back to Calgary.

Over all it was one of the most intense and enjoyable trips I’ve ever taken, if you ever get the chance to head up north I highly recommend it; it’s more than worth the drive. And say hi to the wonderful folks at the Fort Smith Paddling club for us!

I’d like to say a huge thanks to John, Gen, Natalie and Leif for allowing us to use their gear and home for the festival and courses! You’re all awesome people to hang out and paddle with.

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Green River, UT

Green River, UT
Photo: Shawna Franklin