Amidst the roar of the river and the roar of applause, competitors kayaked, rowed and doggie-paddled their way to victory Saturday and today in the 24th annual Yampa River Festival in Steamboat Springs.
The festival featured kayak races and rodeos, a raft race, fly fishing and the Crazy River Dog contest, and spectators overflowed the banks of the Yampa River to watch.
In the parking lot behind Bud Werner Memorial Library on Saturday, kayakers milled about wearing spray skirts and brightly colored helmets. Baby carriages, dogs and curious onlookers jockeyed for viewing position, and errant beach balls bounced about.
By the river, Brian Horan, 16, from Golden, scarfed down a burrito before competing in the kayak rodeo in which contestants perform tricks in a standing eddy of water. "No one's really that competitive, and they cheer each other on," Horan said. "So it's a fun way to test your skills without any pressure."
"No pressure? Sure, and you don't get nervous either," his mom, Patty Horan, joked.
Horan was one of about 50 people who
registered for the rodeo. Head judge Wyatt Cohen said contestants are judged on technical merit (how close to perfect they perform their tricks), style (how smooth the person looks in the hole), variety (the different moves and tricks they do and parts of the hole they use) and amplitude (how big they make their tricks).
Competitors performed the tricks in Charlie's Hole, a churning pool in the river near the library. "It's like an ocean wave that stays in one place and lets you stay in one place," rodeo organizer Kevin Thompson said.
Unfortunately, the hole's conditions were not ideal because of lower river levels, he said. In fact, according to U.S. Geological Survey data, river levels have decreased from 1,180 cubic feet per second to 645 cubic feet per second in the past two days.
"Cold weather turns off creeks in the high country because snowmelt decreases," Thompson explained. "So we're a little disappointed in the low water levels, but attendance has been great."
And as kayakers flipped, spun and cartwheeled in the hole, spectators cheered and "yee-hawed" them on. When the river bucked a kayaker, he or she got back in the hole and tried again.
"The flip was the coolest. They're really good," said 9-year-old Austin Walsh from the banks. Next to him sat his parents, two brothers and their dog, Sport. The family was visiting Steamboat from near Dallas, where Bob Walsh said there isn't much kayaking. "It was cool watching the end of the kayak race. The blue guy won," 7-year-old Baron Walsh said.
Also cheering on the kayakers was resident Colleen Lyon with her sister Maureen Lyon from New York. The two competed later in the afternoon in the Pool Toy Rodeo in which contestants brave the hole aboard toy inflatables. Nearby was their sturdy craft, two neon-green inner tubes duct taped together and arched by two green foam rods and balloons that read, "The Home Slice Sisters."
Contestants are judged on how long they stay afloat, style and costumes. One sister planned to wear a panda bear mask, and the other was going to wear a lacrosse helmet and kneepads. "We're going to just try and hang in there," Colleen Lyon said.
Other people, however, had different ideas than staying afloat. Riders of one raft in the first-ever River Festival raft race intentionally flipped their raft at the finish line near the hole. "We just all got in the back and back-loaded it," said racer Leighann McLaughlin, who was wearing a plastic rhinestone tiara. "It was a group decision, and we had a blast."
The lead raft won by about 2 1/2 minutes on the about two-mile course, despite the paddlers being a little worse for wear from Friday-night merrymaking. "I'd like to thank the Old Town Pub and the Rugby Club for sponsoring us the night before," winner Robbie Shine joked.
Kayakers then made way for canines in the Crazy River Dog contest. In the event, a buoy floats one-third of the way across the river, and the fastest dog to fetch a stick thrown past the buoy wins. "We've trained for two years for this event, and he's finally up for it," crazy-dog competitor and event organizer Peter VanDeCarr said of his border collie Bud ("Killer Bud" for the event). Killer Bud, sporting a yellow lifejacket, made a near flawless fetch in the river, but other dogs had to fight tooth and paw for it. The hole briefly trapped one hapless pooch in its churning maw and then spewed him far downriver. But the courageous dog emerged tail wagging and unfazed. Another dog trying to return to shore got caught in an eddy pushing him the wrong direction. Inch by inch, at time-lapsed-photography speed, the dog painstakingly neared the shore. With each inch he gained, the crowd erupted in applause for his gallant efforts.
As the finally victorious dog wrung himself dry and daredevil humans tossed themselves into the hole sans kayak, even the dark clouds gathering to the west could not dampen the spirits of the gathered water hounds.