Kayak racers cap big river weekend in Steamboat Springs

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— The water roared down Fish Creek on Monday afternoon, and so did the kayakers. Sixteen boaters took to the waves to cap what by all accounts was a wildly successful weekend of river fun in Steamboat Springs.

Monday’s Paddling Life event didn’t attract some of the big out-of-town names it has in the past, but the thriving local kayaking scene was highlighted as 12 of the 16 racers were on home turf.

Mike Geary proved the swiftest of the lot, riding the raging and boulder-strewn creek to the fastest time.

“I did the race about four years ago and got last,” Geary said. “This was a good redemption.”

The key, Geary explained, was in what he didn’t do as much as in what he did. He finished the course in 3 minutes, 3 seconds, ahead of second-place Ryan Panger, in at 3:06, and third-place finisher Marty Smith, at 3:10.

“It was clean lines,” Geary said. “I wasn’t hitting rocks. I definitely had cleaner lines than I normally do on after-work runs.”

In the past, the race has been one leg of a two-part event. The downtown freestyle event at Charlie’s Hole was bumped from this year’s schedule, however, leaving everything to one mad dash down Fish Creek on Monday.

Without a large out-of-town contingent of competitors, locals filled up the spots.

“It’s a great setting, a great valley and during river season, it’s hard to beat it,” event organizer Eugene Buchanan said. “Steamboat’s becoming a paddling hotbed. There are so many locals now capable of wanting to do a run like that and wanting to race it. We have a great boating community here.”

The race was the final event related to the Yampa River Festival, which soaked in the weekend sun along the river downtown.

Saturday’s crowds surged around Charlie’s Hole to catch the action.

“It was the best turnout we’ve ever had,” said Sarah Piano, the top woman in Monday’s race and the women’s champ of Saturday’s kayaking freestyle rodeo.

“It was good, a lot of fun,” added her husband, Dan Piano, who won the men’s rodeo and tied with Adam Mayo for fifth place in Monday’s race. “It’s just fun paddling with your friends. We had a great time.”

It all added up to plenty to impress locals and visitors. North Carolina kayaker Justin Kleberg first hit Steamboat Springs’ river festival three years ago and was so impressed he’s made a point of returning every year since.

He had to be cajoled into running Monday’s race, but he finished fourth.

“Steamboat has such a wide variety,” he said. “It appeals to the broadest spectrum of river users possible.

“I may be looking for a new place to move.”

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