EAGLE COUNTY — In some ways, the U.S. Rafting National was business as usual for the Vail Valley-based Behind the Eight Ball team, and in other ways, it was uncharted waters.
The four-man team, comprising paddlers from both Eagle and Summit counties, won the U.S. Rafting Nationals in early May. It was the 13th year that a team based in the Colorado High Country won the event, and the win means the team, dubbed Team Behind the Eight Ball, will be headed to the world championships in Brazil this October.
However, while the team competed under the same name, there were a number of new faces in the raft. Of the original eight-man team, only two were able to return this year, said team member John Mark Seelig.
“We lost a lot of the original team that has been so active in the valley. We pulled in two guys from Breckenridge, and we’ve been practicing in a pool since January, then in the Blue River since March,” said Seelig, who also owns Lakota Guides.
This year’s team was Seelig, Eagle County rafter Todd Toledo, and Matt Norfleet and John Anicito, of Summit County.
Also, the Colorado team, which usually wins nationals with ease, had some tough competition in the form of a former five-time national champion team.
“We didn’t think we’d have much competition this year, but there was an old California team that won nationals five years in a row and was second in worlds twice. They came out of retirement and we thought, ‘Oh no,’” said Seelig.
Still, the Colorado team won all four events — sprint, head to head, slalom and downriver — with ease.
The nationals were held on the Salmon River in California, in a remote corner of the state in the Six Rivers National Forest. The course was rough and technical, featuring a number of class V sections. Sheer cliffs rose up from either side of the river, meaning that once in the river, teams weren’t able to take out until a few miles after the finish. Spectators lined the cliffs above the course and cheered for the rafters.
The world competition will be held in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, home to one of the world’s largest waterfalls. They’ll go head to head with a number of professional teams from around the world. The team will be raising funds throughout the summer for the trip. See www.usaraft.org to find out how to support the team or hear more about their bid for a world championship.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.