Friendly floatin'

Local river enthusiasts unite for successful Yampa River Festival

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Yampa River Festival

The Yampa River Festival consisted of kayaking, rafting, fly fishing and the crowd favorite Crazy River Dog event.

The Yampa River Festival consisted of kayaking, rafting, fly fishing and the crowd favorite Crazy River Dog event.

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JP Griffith surfs a hole on the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs on Saturday while warming up for the junior division of the Yampa River Festival freestyle competition.

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Cully Brown surfs a hole on the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs on Saturday while warming up for the junior division of the Yampa River Festival freestyle competition.

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Tommy Larson's rafting team of CMC students makes their way down the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs on Saturday afternoon during the Yampa River Festival rafting competition.

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Danny Rhodehamel's dog, Orion, leaps into the Yampa River chasing a fetch toy during the Yampa River Festival Crazy River Dog competition on Saturday afternoon in Steamboat Springs.

— When it comes to the competition at the Yampa River Festival, the stakes on the line are all relative.

"House chores are the line," Clay Whiddon joked. The Saturday afternoon kayak freestyle event that capped the first day of river events had Whiddon, 19, pitted against his 55-year-old father, Tom, in a preliminary heat.

"He's the better boater - he's the one who taught me how," Clay Whiddon said, giving up some respect for his old man, who got the biggest cheers from the modest crowds assembled on both sides of the D-Hole.

The competition, which primarily had local paddlers performing tricks during a pair of 30-second preliminary runs, was anything but fierce.

"No one really cares who wins - I don't think anyone really knows how it's judged," Kevin Dombey said before his run in the men's open class. "I love it, that's Riverfest. I'm going kayaking."

Dombey's loose approach helped him advance to the four-man finals with Marty Smith, Dan Piano and Matt Hoffer, where event emcee Eugene Buchanan answered Dombey's question by jokingly telling competitors how they would be judged: "They'll be competing for time in the hole, consistency and bribes," he said.

Dombey, who fished an old fax machine from out of the river eddy during a warm-up ride, cashed in on his stewardship karma and clean finals ride to take the win, living up to his appointed title as, "best kayaker in the world." On the women's side, Steamboat's Jamie Goode beat out Sarah Hamilton and Knoxville, Tenn., resident Darren Eddy by one point in the finals for the win.

A packed and talented junior division in the freestyle "rodeo" had 11-year-old Cully Brown throwing big front loops and beating out his 15-year-old brother Rogan in the finals. Their father, Brent, couldn't have been happier to bring his sons up from Durango to compete for the weekend.

"This is just a fun thing for them" Brown said of his sons Cully and Rogan, who are U.S.A. Canoe/Kayak slalom junior national and development team members, respectively. Yampa River Festival "is a lot like (Animas) River Days - there's no big purse money and not a lot of pros, so it keeps it nice and low-key, just fun on the river."

Channing Reynolds was maximizing his day of fun on the river.

Reynolds went straight from the morning's downriver race, which had paddlers racing from River Creek Park to the Stock Bridge, back up to Fetcher Park for the 11:45 a.m. start of the raft race. Still wearing his spray deck with kayak paddle in hand, the six-person raft team, "Out of Time," decided to let Reynolds hop on at the last minute.

The decision paid off as the team went neck and neck with "Team Warpig," and went on to cross the finish line at Charlie's Hole with the fastest time.

"We were duking it out and we had a little water fight, the paddles made nice weapons," said Out of Time's Krista Meyer, who recruited some friends for Boulder to come up for the, "last-minute adventure."

Warpig's spirits were not dampened. Team member Hudson Maynard was quick to point out how his team definitely won the water fights, won the best costume award - with teammates sporting afro wigs and superhero costumes - and ended the race with team captain Brad Williams back-flipping off the raft and into the river.

All joking aside and celebratory canned take-out beers finished, both Williams and Reynolds were keen to the bigger picture surrounding the festivities.

"The goal here is to generate a little revenue, not just to improve the whitewater aspects, but for all the river users - better fish habitat, tuber access, the preservation of our sports," Reynolds said. "This is such a unique habitat as the last of the Colorado's free-flowing tributaries and we're at a critical time with what may happen in the next 20 years. Hopefully, we can generate a few dollars and awareness of how wonderful the Yampa is, so that it will last."

On that thought, Reynolds headed back upriver to make sure he wasn't late for the next event, the Crazy River Dog, where he and his dog Jake would compete.

John St. John, a Friends of the Yampa member and event organizer, was pleased to see the 27th incarnation of the festival. To St. John, a successful first day of events was a testament to the growth the Friends' grassroots network in the face of pressures on the river, and in filling the absence of Peter Van De Carr, the festival's lead organizer for 22 of those years.

The action concludes today with the slalom boaters racing the course at Dr. Rich Weiss Park, starting at 11 a.m. with registration at 10 a.m. Cost is $15 with a mandatory $10 bib deposit.

"The slalom should neat, there's some really cool kids in it," St. John said.

- To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253

or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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