Yampa River Festival

Crazy dogs, brave kayakers turn out for 23rd annual event

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Marty Smith spent his 16th birthday purple-lipped and shivering with cold, and he was perfectly happy to do so.

Smith participated in the Yampa River Festival for what he estimated was his 10th year. He said it was a great way to spend his birthday.

Dozens of spectators came out Saturday to watch the 23rd annual Yampa River Festival, thankful that cooperative weather allowed the event to go on as planned.

Although the day was full of competitions, everyone agreed that the day was really just about having a good time.

"The spirit of the event is so great," organizer Peter Van De Carr said.

The audience, composed of people young and old, lined the shore of the Yampa River on either side of Charlie's Hole behind the Bud Werner Memorial Library. Spectators brought food and drinks and relaxed on the rocks and grass as music played from a loudspeaker.

A BoaterCross event planned for Friday evening was canceled due to inclement weather. The race was planned to be a goofy event, with competitors set to ride miniature clown bikes before getting into kayaks.

Saturday began with the downriver race, which started at 9 a.m. at Bucci Pond.

Next, kayakers met at Charlie's Hole to begin practicing for the River Rodeo. The boaters impressed onlookers with tricks in the fast-moving water.

At noon, the hole was officially dedicated to Charlie Beavers, a well-known local kayaker who died last fall.

The next event, Crazy River Dogs, delighted the crowd.

In the competition, each dog's owner had to throw a stick past a buoy that was placed in the middle of the river. The dog had to quickly retrieve the stick and return it to his owner on the shore.

Some dogs obeyed and returned with the stick in less than 20 seconds. Some got carried farther downriver, paddling furiously after the stick, while others refused to jump in the river at all. The crowd laughed at the chorus of barking dogs on the shore, eager for their turns.

Eric Younker was proud of his and his girlfriend's winning dog, D-Bo.

"Last year, he went through the D-Hole and he lost," Younker said.

The Kayak River Rodeo competition came next. It was divided into a junior heat and two adult heats. Kayakers were scored on the duration of their ride in the hole, as well as tricks they performed. Each boater took turns paddling into the whitewater.

"I got every loop in practice. I think I only got one in the competition," said Smith, who competed in the junior heat.

"I did okay," Smith said, his lips still purple from the cold water.

"It was freezing," he said. He had been in the river for four straight hours.

Erin Griffith, 19, competed in the first adult heat and was the only woman in the event. She didn't seem to mind.

"It was fun; no worries," Griffith said. She was visiting from Idaho, and it was her first time in the festival.

"This place is sweet," she said.

Van De Carr said there were not as many professional competitors at the festival this year because of other kayak competitions going on across the state.

"Our focus is becoming more of the hardcore boaters, not just the guys getting paid for it," Van De Carr said.

After the River Rodeo, competitors and spectators were invited to the Steamboat Springs Community Center for Chef Rocky's Gumbo Dinner and bluegrass music.

The festival will continue today with slalom races beginning at 10 a.m. at Rich Weiss Park.

-- To contact Erin Ragan call 871-4232

or e-mail intern@steamboatpilot.com

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