While the GoPro Mountain Games might hold the trophy for the biggest whitewater SUP event, the event with the biggest heart almost certainly takes place in Salida, Colorado. This river town has played host to FIBArk, the longest running whitewater festival in the country, held every June over Father’s Day weekend to coincide with the spring run-off. This year, they celebrated their 70th anniversary. First In Boating on the Arkansas (FIBArk) is a grassroots festival that literally takes over the town with a carnival-like atmosphere. Yes, you can ride the Octopus or Ferris Wheel after smashing a funnel-cake. Between the live music, fried food and lots of open-beverage consumption, a fun-loving cadre of river paddlers even managed to to get to the water’s edge for the main event: SUP cross.
In heats of four or five, paddlers sprinted from the beach across the river, rounding the first in a series of downriver buoys placed within Salida’s engineered whitewater park. Some are placed on twisted eddylines while others forced racers to paddle back upstream. Spills, carnage and neck-and-neck sprint paddling make for a great spectator event. This year, racers dealt with unseasonably low water, 750 CFS compared to 3,000 last year. While the shallow depth decreased the speed of the river and dulled the teeth of the rapids, racers were forced to paddle with more technical skill. Those that were able to avoid falling and out-paddle and over-power their opponents came out on top.
Spencer Lacy and Mike Tavares, buddies and river podium fixtures, led their respective heats until the final round, when Tavares was able to get an inside-move at the first buoy and sprint ahead. He would never relinquish the lead. In his wake Lacy and 16-year old Miles Harvey were left to duke it out for second and third place, respectively. Rebecca Giddens showed her river slalom chops, dominating the women’s field. She was followed by Brittany Parker and Cami Swan in second and third place.
Until next year, the grease has cooled, the water has dropped and the cheering throngs have left the shore. But you know FIBArk will be back for 71.