Outdoors Blog

North Fork Championship kayak race should be ‘more dramatic’ with high flows

The North Fork of the Payette River’s famous rapids will challenge some of the nation’s best kayakers this week.
The North Fork of the Payette River’s famous rapids will challenge some of the nation’s best kayakers this week. ccripe@idahostatesman.com

The kayakers in the North Fork Championship will find a much larger river this week than they experienced last year.

The North Fork Payette River was running at 5,830 cubic feet per second Monday morning. It was below 1,800 cfs for last year’s races.

“That just makes it more powerful, pushier whitewater,” said Jesse Murphy, the communications manager for the North Fork Championship. “Rivers like the Main Payette and Main Salmon, they’re such big volume rivers that they can take a huge variety or variance in water levels. Everything covers up. When you take a river bed and make it more narrow and steeper like the North Fork, all you’re going to do is make it more dramatic. With certain features getting covered up, new ones come into play.”

The North Fork already is considered one of the best tests of kayaking in the country. The North Fork Championship includes an expert sprint at 10:30 a.m. Thursday that offers spots in the main event to the top 10 finishers, a heat race (six paddlers at a time) at 3 p.m. Friday and the 30-boat elite race at 1 p.m. Saturday. Each competitor in the main event gets two attempts. The field of 30 includes the top 10 finishers from last year, 10 racers selected by last year’s top finishers and the 10 wild-card qualifiers from Thursday.

The courses are about 50 miles north of Boise along Idaho 55. Spectators are encouraged to wear close-toed shoes and, if sitting close to the water, a life jacket.

The river flow will force paddlers to make decisions and maneuvers faster than usual, Murphy said.

“It really does get physically fatiguing to be doing the whole thing when it’s that powerful and high,” he said.

Dane Jackson of Tennessee, who won the Friday and Saturday events last year, is expected to return to defend his title. Alec Voorhees of Meridian is coming off a fourth-place finish in the elite race.

The kayakers also will experience a first-time event on Thursday night at the Egyptian Theatre in Downtown Boise. The Whitewater Awards, which have been presented online in the past, will be handed out live at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance (northforkchampionship.com) or $13 at the door.

The awards show will highlight the best kayaking from around the world through film clips and announce winners in freestyle, big rapids, waterfalls, expedition and river stewardship categories. Voting is based on the challenge and skill shown in the films.

“It’s quality of execution,” said Murphy, who was one of the voters. “... Who truly progressed the sport or stood above the rest. That was my voting parameter.”