Steamboat Springs The water was low Monday. That came as no surprise to anyone who’s kept an eye on the flows of the Yampa River this spring or who was in Steamboat Springs this winter.
Turns out it wasn’t much of a problem, either.
A year ago, the Yampa River ran so hard that it blew out Charlie’s Hole and competitors in the annual Memorial Day kayaking event, the Paddling Life Pro Open, had no problem taking flight from the wave to the D-Hole just downstream.
On Monday, even when the Yampa’s usual spring roar seemed more like a moderate shout, they soared again. The competition, as usual, was led by some of the world’s most talented kayakers.
“It was pretty good at low water still,” Nick Troutman said. “You were still able to do a lot of stuff, and it was still a lot of fun.”
Troutman and Dane Jackson tied for the championship. Both have been there before. Jackson won last year, edging out Troutman, who’s been plenty successful in his five years attending the event.
The low flows dictated the day’s schedule and bumped up by a few hours the downtown freestyle boating portion of the two-part competition. Neither Jackson nor Troutman seemed at all bothered.
Troutman estimated the pair spends 300 days kayaking together each year, so whether the water is low or high or whether they’re on a big wave or a tiny feature, they find a way to make it work. On Monday, it was big loops and McNastys, both rising well above their fellow boaters, first from the water, and when it was over, also in the standings.
“It’s just practice,” Troutman said. “We paddle together every day and that definitely helps. We always push each other, and it’s easier to climb the ladder that way.”
Only Jordan Poffenberger, a 21-year-old paddler from Virginia, could keep pace, and he finished third in the freestyle competition, behind Jackson, who won, and Troutman, who was second.
On the women’s side, Courtney Kerin had little trouble standing out from the competition. The New Zealand boater made her Steamboat debut, and once she got the hang of the hole, she soared high, landing big tricks to win the women’s freestyle section.
“There was plenty of power and water to get lots of air and tricks,” Kerin said. “That’s an awesome play spot you have in the backyard. If I lived here, I’d definitely be out there every day.”
The second portion of the competition, a race on the boulder-strewn Fish Creek, was more affected by the low water. It likely would have been impossible to kayak in the morning, but the day’s snowmelt helped edge the level up just enough for the race.
The key, women’s race winner Martina Wegman said, was picking the right line. Having never seen the creek, she gathered what she could from a pre-race hike along the rocky shore and dove in.
“You’re looking to see where the deepest water is, where the water’s flowing the fastest,” said Wegman, who traveled to the U.S. from the Netherlands. “There were so many rocks that it was very hard. You couldn’t find any line that didn’t hit any, but you can really feel when you have the right line.”
Troutman won for the men, and Jackson was second, securing their tie in the overall standings. Poffenberger was fourth on the creek and third overall.
Kerin, meanwhile, was fifth on the creek and second overall, and Louise Jull, who was third downtown and second on the creek, was third overall.
Even in a low-water year, it all added up to enough to thrill the crowds and leave the competitors vowing to return.
“There’s a lot of cool things about Steamboat,” Troutman said. “There are some awesome hot springs, some great restaurants and we just really like it. It’s a cool town.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com