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Sunday, August 30, 1998 -- Valley Falls State Park
No where to go but down at Valley Falls
Valley Falls Downriver Race

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Valley Falls, WV, attracts thousands of visitors every year, but on Sunday, the visitors came to see more than just the spectacular waterfalls. The first annual Clarksburg Kayak Club Valley Falls Kayak Race was held on Sunday, August 30, taking those boaters who dared to participate over the two initial falls and then down the thrashing whitewater that followed. The three-quarter-mile course began at the top of the falls and descended first down the eight-foot waterfall on the boater's river left. Next, they were directed to take the slot on river right that took them over a raging twelve-foot waterfall. The course then followed the Tygart River down through two more vicious rapids, Hamburger Helper and Twist and Shout. Overall, one of the most adrenaline-packed three-quarters of a mile anyone could ask for.

Scott Wade gets deep into the whitewater
The boaters arrived early on Sunday morning, many arriving from out-of-state or distant West Virginia cities. As quickly as the racers arrived, their boats were off their vehicles and on the water to test out the rapids and to choose the fastest (and safest) line. Many of the participants traveled from some of the favorite local whitewater spots, the New River and Ohiopyle, and were unfamiliar with what this section of the Tygart had to offer. And, from the comments heard before and after the race, the thrilling waters of the Tygart River's Valley Falls did not disappoint them. Racers were seen boating the course once, twice, as many times as possible before and after the race got underway.

Once the action began, it was fast and furious. The thirty-odd racers were timed against the clock as the race start was staggered at two-minute intervals. Since each racer was forced to face the oncoming rapids alone, their decisions and actions on the river had to be quick. By running the safest lines at the first two waterfalls, the racers made it through the section with ease, all the while dazzling the crowds with the grace and power with which they topped the falls.

Todd Kichandollar keeping his long boat on top of the water
The next two rapids held much more suspense for the racers. As they made their way quickly through the calm waters between each rapid, the boaters knew that one wrong move, or too short of a stroke in the rapids ahead, could result in a pummeling from the raging Class IV and V whitewater. However, the sunshine seen in the skies on Sunday, was also seen on the race course itself, as one racer after another successfully boofed the rock at the top of the harrowing Hamburger Helper and then skillfully navigated themselves through its swift currents.

Andy Rice takes the high line
The final section of the race required the paddlers to wind their way through the long, winding rapid of Twist and Shout - rightfully named. If the racers had any trouble on the route, this was where they found it. Those who successfully made their way through the winding waters did so with smiles on their faces as they emerged from the waters to a quick finish on river right below. A number of others though, were flipped in the lower half of the rapid, but most, to the crowds' amazement, rolled themselves back up quickly.

Brad Yurish is about to take an inadvertent roll
The highlight of the race, for some, came when racer Brad Yurish rolled underwater midway through this final rapid, only to surface to find himself caught in the dangerous sieve on river right. As spectators on the rocks above him held their breath, three safety persons arrived to help him escape from the boat. Surprising both the helpers and the crowds, once free, he swiftly climbed the nearest rock and threw himself into the swirling waters to be carried (boatless) by the whitewater to the finish.

When the race was over, and all the daring participants had had there chance, the fastest time of the day was recorded by Steve Kauffman, who navigated down the falls in 5 minutes and 40 seconds. For his efforts, Kauffman was rewarded with a $350 gift certificate from Mountain Surf Kayak Shop. Also turning in impressive times were Marc Harman (5:50) and Mike Herrera (5:57) who took second and third prizes of $250 and $100 gift certificates from Starkk Moon Kayaks, respectively. Some additional kudos go out to the two ladies that challenged the waters, Kate Udall and Chrissy Zeltner-Gittings.

Mark Harman fights for a left turn on his way to 2nd place
The race was organized by the Clarksburg Kayak Club and supported by the Three Rivers Paddling Club, Mountain Surf of Friendsville, Maryland, Mountain Surf Kayak Shop and Starkk Moon Kayaks, both of Fayetteville, West Virginia, and the many local volunteers who made the event possible. The first annual Valley Falls Kayak Race was a huge success for the sport. And, whether you were one of those who dared to challenge the falls or one who just dared to challenge the rocky sidelines, everyone went home impressed with a well-organized, well-raced event.