Fighting the current

Joshua Ayers
September 7, 2005
Filed under Sports

Drive east on Highway 178 and you’re bound to see signs warning people to stay out of the Kern River. For kayakers, the sign might as well be invisible.

Kayakers and canoeists from around the world flocked to Kern County to compete in a series of championships held on the Kern River Aug. 26-28.

The three events consisted of the Pan American Whitewater Championships, the Americas’ Slalom Open and the U.S. Whitewater Slalom National Championships.

The weekend marked the first time since 2000 that the Kern River was selected for the U.S. Nationals.

“It’s a hard course. It takes all of your energy early on,” said Stein Beals, a 14-year-old Centennial High School freshman who competed in the Americas’ Open and U.S. nationals.

The Bakersfield native began kayaking a little over a year ago after his mother, a whitewater rafter, put him in a boat on the river.

According to Organizing Director Terry Valle, different areas around the nation put in bids to host the national championships. Placing a bid for a slalom championship is a lengthy process that requires a 10-page application along with reasons that explain why the course should be used for the event.

“We’ve been slowly building our credibility,” Valle said.

Valle also said that it is her goal to eventually hold the World Kayak Championships at the Miracle Hot Spring slalom course.

“Our river has to prove itself,” Valle said. “[People] are slowly finding out that the Kern River is a world class river.”

The Pan American Whitewater Slalom Championships featured 48 athletes from nine countries from America, America and South America.

Canadian competitor Francois Letourneau, who placed first in the C2 (two-person canoe) competition of the Pan-American Championships with his rowing partner Benoit Gauthier, said that it was his first time on the Kern.

Letourneau said that he was surprised to see the river with good water flow when the surrounding wilderness was so dry.

Letourneau and Gauthier have been paddling together in competitions around the world since 1992. The duo from Montreal placed eighth in the C2 event at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Both have jobs in Canada and have paddled full time in the past but found that too much competing and training took the fun out of the sport.

“It’s good to keep a balance,” Gauthier said.

Also on hand for the event was Athens kayaking silver medalist Rebecca Giddens who was the commentator for the event. Giddens, a Green Bay native, began kayaking when she was 10 years old. She was planning on competing in the weekend’s events but dislocated her shoulder a few weeks ago while scouting out some rapids on day 10 of an 11-day 115-mile expedition on the headwaters of the Kern River.

Giddens now resides in Kernville with her husband Eric, who placed third in the U.S. nationals. She said she “fell in love with the area” while training on the Kern River for Athens.

“The setting is peaceful,” Rebecca said. “It’s not one of those artificial rivers.”

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