Sarah Hamilton tries to work through a wave Saturday at Charlie's Hole in downtown Steamboat Springs. Hamilton, the only woman competing in the kayak rodeo at the Yampa River Festival, placed third in the event.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Sarah Hamilton tries to work through a wave Saturday at Charlie's Hole in downtown Steamboat Springs. Hamilton, the only woman competing in the kayak rodeo at the Yampa River Festival, placed third in the event.

Kayakers rule festival, but plenty of different crafts find way into water

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Rick Franken kayaks Saturday in the Yampa River Festival's kayak rodeo at Charlie's Hole in downtown Steamboat Springs.

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Dan Piano paddles Saturday during the Yampa River Festival's kayak rodeo. Piano won the event and earned the right to compete Monday in the Paddling Life Pro Invitational in Steamboat Springs.

— Dan Piano was the last kayaker into the rushing water of the Yampa River on Saturday during the Yampa River Festival's kayak rodeo.

He pushed away from the boulders lining the shore behind Bud Werner Memorial Library and into Charlie's Hole, his black wetsuit and black lifejacket blending into his black Jackson kayak seamlessly - Johnny Cash on the Yampa, with a don't-mess-with me scowl to complete the costume.

Intimidating.

"That's the idea," Piano said.

Only, when he said that, the attitude was gone. His face was split with a smile, and he glowed with victory.

Piano intimidated his way to a win Saturday, boating past almost a dozen opponents to win the kayak rodeo at the 29th annual Yampa River Festival.

"It was a lot of fun," Piano said. "The main idea of the whole thing is to show how much fun this can be, how great the C-hole is."

Rain swept across town Saturday, midway through the first day of the three-day festival.

That the discomfort did little to thin the crowds probably says something about the residents of Steamboat Springs, who turned out in force to celebrate as the river roared.

Plenty weren't about to let its chilly temperatures or a little rain spoil the fun.

A long line of rafts tackled Charlie's Hole, many wild-eyed locals flying from rubbery safety into frigid waters. Others attacked the water feature in tubes in the second-annual tube rodeo. Josh Burton donned a business suit for that honor.

But the day belonged to the kayakers.

"That was great," event organizer Pete Van De Carr said after the kayaking event. "Our local kayakers can hold their own with anyone. That's always great."

Piano was one of six to advance from the opening round, joining Sarah Hamilton, Brian Berger, Adam Mayo, Quinn Connell and Rick Franken in the semifinals.

Then, he again advanced. Piano, Hamilton and Berger made the finals.

"The best trick I did was the McNasty," Piano said. "In the semifinals, I had a really bad ride, and Sarah had a really good ride. She's my girlfriend, and I was afraid she was going to beat me."

Not this time. Piano hung in the wave longer than his opponents and landed more tricks. The combination proved enough to give him the win.

Compared to last year's festival, the water was high Saturday. That made tricks of all sorts difficult.

The opening round featured a rally format, meaning a group of three of four boaters took turns cutting into the wave. When one flushed out, another charged in to steal the spotlight.

Facing a river running nearly full bore, there was plenty of flushing.

"It was really fun, but a weird level," Piano said. "It was really flushy. That made it hard to stay in the feature."

Saturday's success ensured Piano and Hamilton will get to ride again. Both will compete Monday in the Paddling Life Pro Kayaking Invitational.

Hamilton won that right thanks not just to her strong performance Saturday but to a fourth-place finish in the pro event last year.

Piano, meanwhile, will compete with the pros for the first time. It may make for a few awkward moments - he's in charge of running the freestyle portion of the event, as well.

Monday's events start at 10 a.m. with a run down Fish Creek. It continues at 1 p.m. back at Charlie's Hole downtown.

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