Joel Reichenberger: Locals up to pro standards

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— It isn't that I seek to go in with preconceived notions, but before I go to cover an event - especially one with which I'm not overly familiar, such as last week's Paddling Life Pro Invitational - I ask around. I try to do a little research but also try to figure out what some of the off-the-record story lines might be.

So it was by asking around that I learned what to expect from the small collection of local boaters strapping up to compete with the traveling experts going into the third annual invitational.

It was by asking around I learned their cause was hopeless, their depressingly low final ranks to be affected only by how many of the invited pros showed up for the event to beat them.

It was through that bleak widow I watched the remarkable performances of Steamboat's amateurs. They were supposed to be sunk before they even pushed off from the rocky shore, but instead, the locals stole the show.

Sarah Hamilton led Steamboat's riders with a fourth-place overall finish in the women's division, an achievement highlighted by her third-place ride in the day's freestyle event on the Yampa River and Charlie's Hole.

Local Mike Geary earned perhaps the day's loudest ovation. He earned his spot by winning the local's rodeo several days prior as a part of the Yampa River Festival - Geary left the crowd roaring with his spins and flips in the structure's wave. Going against four groups of boaters, he nearly still managed to fight his way into the four-competitor finals, finishing just a couple of spots below the finalists.

Jaime Goode ended the day on a soggy note - she had to swim from her overturned kayak on the Fish Creek race portion of the day's competition - but she also showed well with a fourth-place finish in the women's freestyle.

While Goode and Hamilton battled it out in the finals with a couple of the best boaters in the world, other widely known staples of the sport watched from the river's banks.

That's incredible. Goode, Geary and Hamilton aren't professionals. What they are is ever-present on the rivers and creeks of the Yampa Valley in the spring and early summer.

No doubt home-hole advantage played a huge role. With the Yampa running high and Fish Creek running low, having years of experience cutting between those rocks and fighting to slice through those waves made a big difference. Some competitors struggled to keep from getting flushed from Charlie's Hole while the Steamboat riders seemed better able to cope with its surges.

That's not enough to excuse the pro performances, however. Against some of the best in the sport, Steamboat's amateurs were awesome and every bit as talented. If any naÃive soul comes asking me about them before next year's competition, that's what I'll have to say.

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