Cultures connect through kayaking at GoPro Mountain Games Steep Creek event
8 different nations represented in 37-person field
RED CLIFF — Dane Jackson has been called the world’s best kayaker, and on Thursday, he bested boaters from all over the globe to prove the title true.
Jackson was the only American man in the top five at the Steep Creek Championship, a timed race down Homestake Creek that doubles as the kick off to the GoPro Mountain Games every year.
International competitors outnumbered Americans in the women’s event, with only four female competitors completing both of their preliminary round runs through the tight section of class-5 whitewater.
Adriene Levknecht, of Greenville, South Carolina, was the fastest woman on the day.
‘As cold as cold can get’
Colorado was well represented in the competition, with Glenwood Springs paddlers Kenny and Dally Kellogg, Peter Farmelo of Silverthorne and Alex Tansey of Kremmling holding it down as the most local kayakers in the 37-person field.
Tansey said if they had any “home water” advantage, it was the fact that they were already acclimated to the elevation and the cold water.
“Some of these folks aren’t used to true snowmelt water,” Tansey said. “As cold as cold can get.”
Traveling to Colorado for the first time from Costa Rica, Arnaldo Cespedes said the water nearly paralyzed him at first.
“Even though I was wearing a wet suit, I thought that I was going to get frozen,” he said.
Cespedes said as a result, he didn’t perform as well as he was expecting.
“But it’s part of it,” he said. “This is the way that you can improve yourself, just getting exposed to that, and to try with the best boaters.”
At the boat wash
Paddlers from Chile, Argentina, Canada, France and Norway also competed.
Second-place Gerd Serrasoles, a native of Catalonia, now calls the Columbia River Gorge home in White Salmon, Washington.
With such an international field, the boat wash station did get used on Thursday, as part of an ongoing effort to stop invasive aquatic species into local waterways.
A common sight at competitions like this one, the boat was area warned of Whirling Disease, Quqgga, zebra mussel, chytrid fungus, Didymo and New Zealand mudsnail currently affecting the area.
The only New Zealander competing on Thursday, Courtney Kerin, said she recently became aware of the mudsnail issue at a competition in Nevada last month.
“I had never heard of it myself, so that kind of blew my mind when I read about that,” she said.
While the New Zealand mudsnail has been present in Europe since the 19th century, its presence in the American west is relatively new.
“Populations in New Zealand are kept in check naturally by native parasites. In North America, however, native stream communities can be drastically altered because there are no natural predators,” the California Department of Fish and Game wrote in 2004, as the species was first being seen there. “(The New Zealand mudsnail) is a very small snail with the potential of extraordinary population densities – up to approximately a million snails per square meter.”
Kerin said thanks to the support of her sponsor, she receives a brand new boat as soon as she hits North America, so locals don’t have to worry about tagalong snails hitching a ride with her.
“I certainly understand and appreciate that effort though,” she said. “In New Zealand there’s a big focus on biodiversity, as well, and it can be quite strict due to the sensitivity of our eco system there … As soon as you get there, your stuff is sprayed and cleaned, and they might even tell you you can’t keep it.”
In May, Kerin competed in RiverFest in Columbus, Georgia, before hitting the Reno River Festival, Animas River Days in Durango and the CKS Paddlefest in nearby Buena Vista. She arrived at the Mountain Games feeling strong, and has decided to test her running and biking skills in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge, as well.
“I’m gonna jump around to a few different competitions and see what happens,” she said.
The Ultimate Mountain Challenge tests competitors across six events of their choosing, with at least one biking and paddling event mandatory. It wraps up on Sunday with the Pepi’s Face Off, also mandatory, which sets a clock to 30 minutes and pits runners against each other in a challenge to see who can complete the most laps up the steep, 40% grade ski run at the base of Gondola One in Vail.
The Pepi’s Face Off is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. For more schedule information, visit mountaingames.com.