Part of the 73rd FIBArk race series, the event at Pine Creek began in the early 2000s as a boater-cross race.
Based on the riverside chatter of racers who knew this stretch of the Arkansas River located 13 miles north of Buena Vista, the course was difficult, forcing boaters to take a left-line more treacherous and challenging than the right.
Just upstream of the notorious Pine Creek Hole was an end-around gate that most agreed to have presented the course’s biggest challenge.
Racers had to tack hard to port and turn into a narrow eddy to fight upstream and around the red and white gate that was suspended over the water, strung to railroad tracks to the west and vegetation on the steep bank to the east.
Neither did the stretch adjacent and including the Pine Creek Hole admit easy passage. Gate positioning forced racers to hold tight to a large rock in the middle of the river before taking the large drop into the hole.
The waters, which river rats estimated at 70% peak flow, were fast and thunderous.
An official observer said angry rocks lurked just below the surface.
Racers were pitched into the hole in all attitudes, some cutting deftly through like a hot knife through butter, but others rolling in and tumbling through upside down, backwards or getting surfed – stuck in the rapid completely sideways – their downstream progress suddenly halted until they were able to pry themselves free.
First prize was bragging rights, $300 and a bottle of vodka.
Scott Shipley of Lyons took first in the men’s with a time of 1 minute, 42 seconds, edging out second place Liam Malakoff of Lafeyette by 3 seconds. Shipley, a three-time world champion and Olympian, “literally wrote the book on slalom kayaking,” said Malakoff.
Shipley and Malakoff both represented Team Colorado Whitewater Racing in the competition, a nonprofit established in 2012 to foster and improve competitiveness of paddlers in the state of Colorado and neighboring states in national and international whitewater racing and freestyle competitions.
Buena Vista resident Avery Potter was the sole women’s entrant, finishing with a time of 2 minutes, 6 seconds, to take home first prize.
“I feel like I had a pretty clean line. The one crux gate, past that first stop-gate felt really smooth, so I’m stoked,” said Potter just after her run.
“I’m glad that they brought back the Pine Creek Race. Especially the giant slalom,” she said.
Another racer, Wyatt Alt, spoke for the whole race group, saying, “we want to all thank Allie [Gober] for putting this on, together. She’s very kind and brought the community together.”