Kayakers tumble around in Rodeo Hole
Wenatchee River Festival draws whitewater enthusiasts
Monday, June 13, 2011
CASHMERE —The wave must have been 35 feet wide and 3 feet tall, made up of undulating backwater and churning froth.
Rafters paddled past, purposely hitting only the outside edge. To take it in the middle meant a big chance of getting stuck, flipping and dumping.
Kayakers — those in snub-nosed trick boats — flocked to the wave like moths to flame.
“It’s just barely controlled chaos out there,” said Kelly Gillespie. “It’s fun but it’s definitely right on the edge of being a little dangerous. You’re wondering: How long can I push it? How long can I hold my breath?”
This is Rodeo Hole on the Wenatchee River and kayakers say the wave is bigger than most can remember. With the river running at extremely high levels this spring, Rodeo Hole was the place to be on Saturday as about 10 kayakers competed in the freestyle event at the Wenatchee River Festival. The two-day event promoted conservation and public access to rivers and waterways, and raised money for American Whitewater.
Gillespie, 42, a doctor at the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center, was one of the daring group of men who completed such moves as cartwheels, front and back loops, air blunts and back stabs at Rodeo Hole. The competition was one of several contests, along with clinics, held during the event.
Matt Kurle, 25, of Poulsbo, likened the feeling to surfing an ocean wave.
“You feel the power of the water all around you and underneath you and you can harness it to have fun,” he said.
Marco Colella, 46, owner of Crossfit Cashmere, said he moved to Peshastin a few years ago specifically to be near the Wenatchee River. He called it “the best whitewater on the West Coast.”
Freestyle kayaking, he said, “really speaks to your soul” and added that “we’re using mother nature and it doesn’t cost anything. We’re going into these big hydraulics and trying to hang on.”
Darren Albright, 28, lives in Gig Harbor but stays in Cashmere May through July, using up all of his vacation time as a firefighter, so he can kayak.
“It’s fun, cold, wet and, when you’re doing it, you stop thinking about anything else,” he said.
He calls the sport challenging but relaxing.
“Between runs, you’re just sitting in the eddy, talking to your buddies,” he said. “You may not have seen these guys for nine months, then it’s like we’ve never missed a day.”
Dave Zimmerman, 45, a carpenter from North Bend, and Adam McKenney, owner of Leavenworth Mountain Sports, were the only two competing on stand-up paddle boards. Zimmerman said he was able to stay upright at Rodeo Hole a week ago when the water level was lower, but not on Saturday. He and McKenney often didn’t make it on the wave longer than a few seconds before falling off and floating downstream.
McKenney said the stand-up board is currently the fastest-growing sport in the outdoor industry. He called the board very versatile and said he uses it on the flat water of the Columbia, on lakes and down rivers.
Zimmerman took a break from falling off his board and laughed away any frustrations.
“It’s like being a kid again,” he said. “You fall off, and then you climb back on.”
He said the stand-up board is “really hard” to master on rapids but that’s just fine with him.
“I have one of those personalities where, if it’s hard, I just want to do it.”
Dee Riggs: 664-7147
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