Pacifico 8-Ball Kayak Sprint draws in competitors and a crowd |

Pacifico 8-Ball Kayak Sprint draws in competitors and a crowd

A fan favorite, the Pacifico 8-Ball Sprint turns this normally solo activity into a contact sport

The Pacifico 8-Ball Kayak Sprint turns kayaking into a contact sport at the GoPro Mountain Games.
Barry Eckhaus/Special to the Daily

One of the unique features of the GoPro Mountain Games is the fact that it not only host traditional events like trail runs, cross-country bike races and international climbing competitions, but it also hosts events that have been created specifically by the athletes, for the athletes. The Pacifico 8-Ball Kayak Sprint is one of those events.

Hosted in Gore Creek, the Pacifico 8-Ball Kayak Sprint invites those who dare to compete in a whitewater battle royal to the finish. It’s not very long, the course goes from the Covered Bridge to the International Bridge, but the kayakers have to navigate a narrow, 200-meter stretch with rocks and rapids and the infamous 8-ballers.

The 8-ballers are kayakers hanging out in the eddys on the side of the creek just waiting to thwart the efforts, speed and direction of the racers who are trying to make it to the finish line first. Protected by body armor, the 8-baller’s goal is to inflict a little pain and fear into the kayakers, making this more of a contact sport than what you usually see since kayaking is more of a solo event.

This idea came about the way many ideas do, over a few beers.

Ken Hoeve remembers hanging at the Untraditional Marketing offices in Edwards with Joel Heath, Ian Anderson and Joe Blair having beers and playing foosball when the idea for the 8-Ball Sprint came about. Untraditional Marketing created the GoPro Mountain Games over 20 years ago.

Support Local Journalism

“It was when MMA, Mixed Martial Arts, started and I said, ‘We should have an MMA bash,’” Hoeve said, “and we came up with the 8 Ball and said, ‘how about we sit in the eddys and when they race down, we’ll just smash into them?'”

8-ballers and competitors create a scene of mayhem towards the finish line of the Pacifico 8-Ball Kayak Sprint.
Barry Eckhaus/Special to the Daily

The idea was hatched and put into motion, with a few safety precautions put in place since this wasn’t a tried-and-true event yet.

“We were worried that someone was going to take a paddle to the eye, so we used to make people wear sunglasses,” Hoeve said.

They also made the 8-ballers tape swimming pool noodles to the edges of their paddles.

“Which made it darn near impossible for them to paddle!” Hoeve said.

The kayakers compete in heats with the winners advancing to the next round. There will be four to six 8-ballers in the creek each heat. Derrick Dreyer has been an 8-baller for the past six years.

“I just like inviting all of these professional athletes to Vail the proper way,” Dreyer joked.

Experience and innovation ebb and flow throughout the event as far as tactics go.

“I will be starting out at the bottom of the course and rotating my way around, and my main objective is to get my bow on top of theirs and underneath their arms so they can’t paddle,” Dreyer said.

Joe Giglio of Vail competed in the Pacifico 8-Ball Kayak Sprint for the first time.

“I had too many friends having too much fun doing it so I decided to get in on the action. I also have friends who are 8-ballers, and I want to hit them on my way down the creek, too.” Giglio said.

There were a few female kayakers out there as well. Marianna Torres, originally from Venezuela, moved to Denver a few years ago. She did the Pacifico 8-Ball Kayak Sprint last year and it went well, so she thought she’d try it again.

“Instead of trying to be the fastest, I think I’ll hang back and go second and let the 8-ballers get the first kayaker and then try to go around them,” Torres said.

Quentin Donofrio moved to the Vail Valley from Hersey, Pennsylvania, and has become a fan of watching the Pacifico 8-Ball Kayak Sprint.

“It’s just chaos, this seems like the least likely event for kayakers, for them to come down and have these human blockers in the river. I don’t even know how you win, but it’s fun to watch,” Donofrio said.

Being an 8-baller may be fun, but there’s a twist to this event. At the end of the race, the roles reverse and the kayakers become the 8-ballers and the 8-ballers try to get through them. It’s called the revenge round.

“There’s no friend on a powder day, and there’s no friend on an 8-ball day,” Giglio said.  

After all the carnage, London Aguon came out victorious in the men’s division, and Emily Jackson took first place in the women’s field.

As for the 8-ballers, Ken Hoeve, who has been an 8-baller since they created the event nearly 20 years ago, says this may be his last year.

“It’s tough out there fighting all those kayakers each round, and the older I get, I realize I’m a hugger not a fighter!” Hoeve said.

For a full list of Pacifico 8-Ball Kayak Sprint results, go to

Support Local Journalism