Steamboat Springs The spotlight was on the finalists of the Freestyle Whitewater Rodeo Saturday night literally.
Hosted in Steamboat's new "D" hole under artificial lights, the several hundred fans that camped alongside the Yampa River were treated to a wide array of tricks and treats from the competitors that advanced through Saturday's preliminaries into the evening finals.
A rainbow color of kayaks lined the riverbank as the entrants waited their turn to enter the hole. The finals got under way at 8 p.m. with the Junior Expert division and slowly worked their way up the circuit to the Men's Pro division.
The top 10 preliminary scores determined the final placement in the pro group. Andrew Holcombe came into the finals as the top qualifier and appeared poised to take the championship as well, advancing to the showdown between the top three freestylers.
However, Jay Kincaid had other plans, and while both men stayed in the pocket for the entire 45 seconds in their go at the hole, judges ruled Kincaid's delivery to be the best in the pro division, earning him $400.
In the women's pro division, six women were dwindled down to a final three Devon Baker, Lisa Beckstead and Ammy Jimmerson.
Jimmerson is the current tour points leader, and because American Whitewater sanctioned Saturday's event in Steamboat, Jimmerson added to her lead by winning the women's division with a combination of excellent verticals and paddle work.
Recently turning 22, Jimmerson said she started kayaking four years ago when her dad decided to teach her the tricks of his trade.
It's been nearly impossible to get her out of the water since.
"As long as you're excited about it, you can pick up the tricks pretty quick," she said. "I learned when I was 18, and I've been going hard ever since."
While the pro divisions certainly had heated finals in the cool Yampa River, the expert division served the crowd well, too.
In the women's division, which was decided earlier Saturday, Erin Pittinger took top honors. She was followed by Kristen Sprague in second and Hailey Hamilton in third.
With combinations of heavy metal, rock and techno blaring across western Steamboat Springs, the sun set and the water picked up speed, causing the hole to churn harder. From an original field of 36, the largest of the competition, the Men's Expert division was narrowed down to nine for the evening finals.
Peter Gallo and Cory Volt were two of those finalists, and while Gallo didn't fare as well as Volt in the end results Volt received second and $100 both agreed Steamboat's event was one to remember, particularly the hole.
"It's deep. It has a nice foam pile. It's got everything you could ask for except maybe a green shoulder," Volt said.
The kid from South Weber, Utah, said he stopped at Steamboat's hole once before competition because his uncle lives in Kremmling, so he had a chance to measure up the rocks and the pit prior to competition.
Unfortunately, Gallo is from Bryson City, N.C., and didn't have that luxury. Instead, he opted to practice solo Tuesday through Thursday from midnight until 1 a.m. Staging the Whitewater Rodeo at night certainly made Steamboat's event unique in a good way.
"The hole was awesome," he said. "This place was the best event on the tour."
The top place finishers in the men's expert division were Drew Smith, Volt and Max Mancini.
Saturday's event was held in conjunction with the Yampa River Festival. The annual event concludes today with the slalom races at Dr. Rich Weiss Park.