The Nantahala Games pits canoe club against canoe club in a multi-discipline, fun focused competition based at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. It’s my favorite NOC event of the year as it uses competition in a fun environment to explore the edges of our whitewater paddling skills. Canoe club membership has the opportunity to compete in a slalom, freestyle and downriver event to earn their clubs valuable points towards the top prize of a Dagger Mamba whitewater kayak and an AT paddle going to the runner up club.
The 2015 Nantahala Games went off this weekend and was blessed with incredible mountain weather. First off was the slalom, a fun 11 gate course directly in front of the NOC Outfitters Store. Where else can you sit in an eddy next to Olympians like Wayne Dickert, future super stars like Micajah McCurry and perennial top performers like John Pinyerd. Don’t get me wrong, these guys are here to do their best but they are also 100% approachable and eager to dish out advice on how to improve your paddling in order to succeed on the challenging slalom course. The racing proved to be incredibly tight with the Georgia Canoe Association just edging out the Nantahala Racing Club.
Next up was the freestyle event held in the feature built for the 2013 ICF Freestyle World Championships. Official freestyle rules went out the window with competitors told to entertain the judges and they would then be given a score of 1 thru 10. As expected the young guns like Cat Hardman dominated with an excellent display of freestyle mastery mixed with a serious sense of fun as they even tried to surf the hole standing in their boats. But for me the break-thru performance was Carolina Canoe Club’s, Tom Womble in his “ancient” Dagger Response. Tom was torn between earning points for his club and playing in a feature that intimidated him. After some cajoling and reassurance he threw himself into the feature and you could immediately see his confidence as a whitewater paddler grow. He flipped, rolled and without hesitation threw himself back in as he beamed from ear to ear. If I had a score card, he would have received a “10” for this personal break-thru moment. The Nantahala Racing Club ended up sweeping the freestyle event followed by the Carolina Canoe Club, thanks in part to Tom Womble’s willingness to explore his paddling boundaries.
New day and the last event, the downriver, an 8 mile mass start downriver race down the entire length of the Nantahala River. It also doubled as the 47th running of the Southeastern Championships. And we were honored to have NOC founder, Payson Kennedy join us racing his trusty OC1. The mass start was a little frenetic as they always are, but order was soon established as we settled in for the long haul. Payson ended up putting on a master class in OC1 downriver racing by winning the category in a little over an hour, but line honors went to multi-time Wildwater National Champion, John Pinyerd who finished in 56’ 35” and ensuring that the Georgia Canoe Association take the points win in the downriver, followed by the Carolina Canoe Club.
At the completion of the three events we tallied up the points totals to reveal our winners. We’d had 6 clubs compete but there could only be one winner. The Nantahala Racing Club ended up just squeaking in the win with 110 points over the Georgia Canoe Associations 92. Extremely close racing. The NRC will use the prize of the Dagger Mamba to raise funds for their continued youth paddle-sports outreach, recruitment, training and programming.
Congratulations to all the clubs that participated in the 2015 Nantahala Games. It was incredibly rewarding to see so many break thru moments from racers old and new. See you next year.