What: 2013 Rocky Mountain Whitewater Cup Championship
When: May 10 – 12
Where: Meadow Park Slalom Course, Lyons
More info: http://bit.ly/12ha88c
Alexander Dawson School junior Will Coggan is an avid fisherman — always has been. But while fly fishing a few years ago, he saw kayak after kayak pass by him down the river, so he decided to give it a shot. He joined the Lafayette school’s canoe and kayak team as a freshman.
“I found the kayaking is often a lot better than the fishing,” Coggan joked.
Coggan, his teammates and other canoers and kayakers will converge on the Front Range this weekend for the Rocky Mountain Whitewater Championship Cup, the last race in a series to determine a regional canoe and kayak team. The regional team will receive modest funding to attend age-group nationals and the junior Olympics.
This year marks the Dawson canoe and kayak team’s 20th anniversary. It was founded by English department chair Nate Lord, whose son Bryant Lord is now a member of the team.
Over the years, Dawson’s team has gained more and more recognition from students within the school, which has other non-traditional sports teams, like cyclocross.
“You get kids who go to world championships,” Lord said. “You get kids that travel and race internationally, and the kids notice. We’ve had some of our athletes recognized as athlete of the year. We have a genuine presence, and I think we’re respected.”
Lord and other canoe and kayak volunteers and parents recently created the Team Colorado Whitewater Racing Club, a nonprofit organization to support athletes who aspire to national and international races. The club collaborated with the Lyons Kayak Club to put together the championship race in Lyons this weekend.
Lord says race organizers expect around 60 athletes to compete in the three-day event, which includes slalom, wildwater and freestyle disciplines.
In the slalom race, athletes navigate their kayak, single canoe or double canoe through gates as they race through 300 meters of rapids. The wildwater race is a four to six mile race over class three or four whitewater, which are high on the difficulty scale. Freestyle athletes perform tricks on a stationary river feature.
In February, Team Colorado and the Dawson canoe and kayak team brought Jordi Domenjo, a Spanish national team paddler and world championship medallist, to the United States on an O-1 visa for individuals with extraordinary abilities to be coach the team and club.
Domenjo has different goals for the Dawson team and Team Colorado, he says. Through the school, he hopes to introduce more young people to the sport. Once they get hooked, the school will feed them to Team Colorado, a more rigorous training program to get the state of Colorado on the map for whitewater sports, he said. Right now, the sport is mostly practiced on the coasts, but Domenjo said he hopes to change that by getting more Colorado paddlers on national teams.
American paddlers aren’t supported by the government like they are in other countries, Domenjo said, so there are fewer U.S. paddlers on the international circuit.
Paddling at a high level is very costly, one of the reasons why numbers might be lower in the U.S. than other countries, he said. Athletes must travel to competitions at least a week in advance to practice on the river, and usually buy a new boat every year; boats are usually somewhere in the $2,000 range.
“Every river is different,” Domenjo said. “If you want to be competitive, you need to know all the features there. It’s not like a basketball court where they’re all the same size and the ball is always the same.”
Since arriving in Colorado, Domenjo said he’s been blown away by the parents, volunteers and supporters in the community.
Also attending and possibly competing in this weekend’s race is USA Canoe and Kayak CEO and Olympic gold medallist Joe Jacobi, who won America’s first gold medal in whitewater canoeing in 1992.
Jacobi said bringing Domenjo to Team Colorado will “put the Front Range on the map” for whitewater sports.
That’s certainly the case for Coggan, the Dawson fisherman-turned-wildwater-racer. He made the U.S. junior wildwater team last weekend along with Dawson teammates David McConnell, Bryant Lord and Ethan Putnam.
His advice for new paddlers — trust your gut.
“You’re developing an instinct,” he said. “The river is always changing, always throwing some new obstacle in your path and you’ve just got to do your best to work with it. If something happens, you have to acknowledge that and move on.”
–Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.