What to Watch For: North Fork Championship VII

Once again, it is that magical time of year when the world’s best whitewater kayakers descend upon Banks, Idaho for the now-seventh installment of the greatest show on whitewater: The North Fork Championship (June 14-16). Sticking with the “7” theme, here are my 7 things to watch for at NFC VII.

1. More wildcards

In a bid to create more competition on the water, the NFC organizers changed the voting and qualification. Saturday’s Elite Race will feature the top 10 finishers from 2017, as well as invitations determined by athlete vote, though this year the number of those spots is reduced from 15 to 10. Organizers will accordingly increase wild card spots earned through the Expert Division race from 5 to 10. The result of this rule change should make for some exciting competition among Thursday’s Expert racers looking to qualify for the final 30, and a chance to take a run at the crown.

2. New course for the Kokatat Expert Division

Unlike the past six editions of the NFC where the Expert Division event was held on the North Fork Payette’s Lower 5, this year, on Thursday (June 14), those looking to qualify for Saturday’s Elite Race will have to sprint for their lives down the “S-Turn” rapid. While fast runs down the old qualification course fell in the time range of 5-6 minutes, the new course will be more of an anaerobic sprint challenging lactic threshold over pure aerobic endurance — with training lap times falling around two and a half minutes. That means competitors better be ready to keep their foot on the gas after their arms turn into lactic acid-filled noodles in the middle of their runs. Also, precision and clean lines will be an even bigger factor as the margins to make up for time errors greatly shrinks on this abbreviated course.

What’s my prediction? In the words of Clubber Lang: “Pain…”

Gerd Serrasolses flying down Jacob’s Ladder at NFC VI (Photo: Mike Leeds Photography)

3. Water level

After a pretty wet winter, there is definitely a good bit of water in Idaho. The question is whether that will translate into big flows similar to last year at NFC VI? Based on the steady decline in the flows of the North Fork releases over the past week, it doesn’t look like this will be another epic big-water year at the NFC. My best guess at this stage is flows somewhere in the range 1800-1900 cfs. Pretty standard. Which on the North Fork, is a relative term.

2017 North Fork Boater Cross racers making moves through S-Turn. Photo by Jasper Gibson / North Fork Championship.

4. The North Face Boater X (June 15)

Returning to S-Turn rapid, 10 heats of 6 paddlers will go at it head-to-head with the top-2 finishers from each heat advancing. Only athletes from the Elite Race and the top 35 finishers in the Expert Division are eligible to compete in this race, which makes for a field of pretty-pretty fast paddlers. Dane Jackson has walked away with the Boater X title the past two years, making him the man to beat.

Based on past results, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between results at the Boater X and winning The Main Event, so I won’t bore you with a fancy, nonsensical analytic breakdown of a race that the odds-makers in Vegas aren’t willing to touch.

5. The favorites to take home the crown

With an already stacked Elite Race and 10 wild cards yet to be named, it is hard to truly call someone “the favorite.” But since I’m already kibitzing here, I’ll give it a shot.

Here are four names from the Elite Race and a dark horse trying to earn wild card spot that could take home the crown:

  • Dane Jackson – Easy choice considering the fact that he has won the past two NFCs. He has what it takes to win his third consecutive crown as long as he doesn’t wear himself out (if that is even possible) doing hundreds of training runs down Jake’s.
  • Gerd Serrasolses – The 2015 North Fork and Sickline champion is back at the top of his game and has started 2018 on a tear. After cruising to another win on the Little White Salmon Race and dominating the GoPro Mountain Games, Gerd keeps racking up the wins. Now he’s got his sights set on vanquishing Dane to retake the throne.
  • Isaac Levinson – A multi-time Green Race winner with a past NFC top-3 under his belt, Isaac looks to have regained his old racing form as evident by his strong results this year. He’s got the technical skills from his slalom days to be fast in gates and the whitewater skills to match. This may finally be his year to break through.
  • Kyle “Hesh” Hull – This boy can fly! Two years ago he laid down the fastest raw time by 3-seconds, but a touch knocked him down to third. In 2017, he finished fourth, missing the podium by 0.01! He’s got the tools and he’s got the talent.
  • Vavra Hradilek – The Czech still needs to earn a wild card spot, BUT no one competing at the NFC has a competition resume as impressive as his. Here are some highlights: 2012 Olympic Silver medalist, 2013 Canoe Slalom World Champion, and 2016 Extreme Slalom World Champion. Vavra is strong, fit, fast, and built like a muscular tank. When this guy earns a wild card, the rest of the field better watch out because this man is a thoroughbred.

6. The Whitewater Awards

Scheduled to be held at the Egyptian Theatre in downtown Boise on Thursday (June 14), the Whitewater Awards highlight and showcase the best in the world of whitewater kayaking from freestyle, big rapids, waterfalls, expeditions and river stewardship. The films are entertaining, the atmosphere is electric, and the awards always a nice opportunity to relax after the Elite Race and leave you with some good vibes before the main event on Jake’s gets underway.

7. Stoke Float and After-Party

Following Saturday’s competition through Jake’s, the Elite Race field will continue to float down the river to Banks.

Any kayaker, racer or not, young or old, and confident kayaking the North Fork Payette can join this mob at any time. This is a time for the paddlers of this generation to give respect and attention to the ones who came before us and lost their lives on this, and other powerful rivers. Also, the float provides a nice opportunity to unwind before the chaos that inevitably will follow in the nearby town of Crouch at what is undoubtedly whitewater kayaking’s best party.



The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!