Ryan Casey chugged cheap beer from an upside down pink plastic lawn flamingo with a hole cut in it while a crowd of more than a hundred people cheered and yelled and hollered at him. He has just won the first-ever North Fork Championship, a whitewater kayaking race set on the North Fork of the Payette River.
Casey raced Jacob’s Ladder, a Class V rapid stretching three-quarters of a mile along Highway 55, in two minutes and 17 seconds. The 35-year-old from Hailey competed against more than 30 other professional paddlers from around the world.
Casey was one of the older competitors of the group, surrounded mostly by paddlers in their early- and mid-twenties. He was also one of the tallest, at almost seven-feet-tall. He walked away from the event with a jersey, the North Fork Championship crown (that didn’t fit on his head and slid down around his neck), and a check for $4,000.
He said he was surprised he won.
“It’s anybody’s ballgame with the course we had today. Could have gone to anybody,” Casey sad. “I feel really lucky.”
Casey has been paddling for 20 years, and will spend the summer as a kayak instructor on the Lochsa River.
Missoula, Mont.’s Tyler Bradt, 26, took second place at the North Fork Championship, with a check for $2,000. Third place went to Mikkel St. Jean-Duncan, a 28-year-old from Canada, who was almost arrested after his race down the North Fork, for relieving himself near Highway 55.
Casey will now continue on to Whitewater Grand Prix, another elite kayaking event held in Chile this December.