Local whitewater rafting team wins 4-man nationals
EAGLE COUNTY — The local professional whitewater rafting team began the season by winning nationals in four-person competition and is now eyeing the six-man national championship.
The four-man event took place in Oregon on the Rogue River and the Klamath River. Local professionals Kurt Kincel, Jeremiah Williams, Robbie Prechtl and team captain John Mark Seelig — calling themselves the 9 Ball Team — won three of the four events, getting edged out in the slalom by 5.2 seconds.
The win qualifies them for the R4 World Championships, which will be held on a man-made course in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in October.
“We’ll be in the desert, in a river,” Seelig said. “It’s the strangest thing.”
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE
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Heading into the United States Rafting Association National Championships in Oregon, Seelig wasn’t sure how well his team would fare. A couple of Oregon teams had a home field advantage and had been paddling all winter to train.
“They were hoping to catch us off-guard because we haven’t been able to paddle,” Seelig said. “Plus they knew the rivers so well, it would be like if we had a competition on the Eagle.”
After spending a few days training in a man-made facility in North Carolina and a week or so in Oregon, the 9 Ball Team was feeling up to speed.
“We ended up winning the downriver by like 45 seconds, so that really gave us some confidence,” Seelig said.
With a new sponsor — Chaco, Inc. — and a home field advantage of their own coming up in the six-man national championships, the 9 Ball Team now turn its attention to that event, which will be held on the Arkansas River in Salida in June as part of the annual FibArk festival.
“FibArk is America’s Oldest Whitewater Festival and has potential to be a great event to host nationals,” The USA Raft Association wrote in its March newsletter. “The Arkansas River flows through the adventurous town of Salida where spectators will get a front row seat for the sprint, head to head and slaloms events.”
Seelig says it will be an especially fun event this year.
“Hopefully we’ll have a lot of locals coming to see it,” he said. “FibArk is just a great event to be a part of.”
PASSING THE PADDLE
FibArk is scheduled for June 16-19, the weekend after the GoPro Mountain Games, Eagle County’s own whitewater festival. GoPro Mountain Games weekend is always a busy time for the 9 Ball Team, which will be hoping to have a new six-man team in place by then.
“We don’t have a lot of time between now and then to get our six-man team together and get everybody dialed,” Seelig said. “Luckily we know the Arkansas River pretty well.”
In addition to recruiting two new members for the six-man team, the 9 Ball Team will also look to recruit new members to fill the spots of some of their aging veterans. Seelig is one of the hold outs from the original national champion team of local whitewater rafters — known as the 8 Ballers — and says he may be looking at his last year paddling as a non-masters-level competitor.
“This year I’m on a quest to hand off the team, and get some more paddlers involved in the Vail Valley,” he said.
To find those paddlers, Seelig says the 9 Ball Team will hold a series of informal tryout-type outings here in Eagle Country during the next few weeks.
“It’s an opportunity for locals to see if they can take their recreational skills to the pro level,” he said.
Interested paddlers are encouraged to reach out to Seelig by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If we win again at the six-man, we’ll get to go to a truly incredible area in Japan,” he said. “It will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”