Last year, 4,000 spectators lined the banks of Kelly’s Whitewater Park in Cascade for the USA Freestyle Kayaking National Championships. This year, whitewater park co-director Devon Barker is hoping to double that.
Saturday, July 7, and Sunday, July 8, Kelly’s Whitewater Park will host the 2012 National Championships with about 60 kayakers trekking from around the nation to compete.
“In our competition, you’re going to see people doing aerial front flips where their boat completely launches off the water,” Barker said, herself a two-time national kayaking champion. “It’s a lot of gymnastic-type tricks combined with that strength to be able to be at the top of your game at freestyle kayaking.”
Haley Mills, 26, just won the 2012 national point series for freestyle kayaking, a separate string of events from the competition this weekend.
“I’m originally from Elizabethtown, Ky.,” Mills said. “And now I live in an RV and I travel to all the different kayaking events full time.”
She has been in Cascade training on Kelly’s Whitewater Park all week. She called the feature challenging, but fun.
“For me as a competitor, I’m always a little nervous,” Mills said. “But I think that’s good because I can harness my energy ... and put all that nervous energy into power.”
When she isn’t kayaking all spring and summer, Mills sells Christmas trees in the winter.
This year, two new stand-up paddling events have been added to the competition. Along with the pro men's and women's kayaking class, the event showcases canoeing as well. The man and woman who take title as champion will each win $2,000.
Risa Shimoda lives in Washington, D.C, and works as the chair of the USA Freestyle Kayaking Committee. Because of the newness of the sport, she strives to bring consistency to judging at freestyle events.
Shimoda said judging freestyle kayaking is much like judging ice skating; it can be very subjective.
But Mills has some of her own goals for the weekend. The tricks up her dry-top sleeve include, “some big blunts and back stabs and helixes, some big aerial loops. That’s the plan for this weekend,” she said.
The 3-year-old whitewater park remains an ideal place to hold the championships because of its predictable water flows, Shimoda said. She said the enthusiasm from the organizers also helped bring the event back to Idaho.
But Shimoda said the future of freestyle kayaking could make an appearance at the Olympic games in London this year. Rumor has it a non-competitive freestyle kayaking exhibition will take place, hopefully helping to get the sport in the Olympics by 2020.
The park will host food vendors and booths, as well as a concert on Saturday, July 7, at 5 p.m. The folky Americana group Muzzie and Billy Braun will play, with fireworks to follow. Events in the competition start at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s a really freeing experience being out on a wave by yourself, just [to feel] the water beneath the boat,” Mills said.