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Kayakers challenge Mother Nature to a race along the Arkansas River

Kayakers challenge Mother Nature to a race along the Arkansa

SALIDA, Colo. - Kayakers paddled down the Arkansas River Sunday in a race for first place during the annual FIBArk Whitewater Festival.

Sunday marked the end of the four-day festival. The event held in downtown Salida includes races along the river, live music, rides and mountain biking races.

The festival's signature event is the 26-mile trek from Salida to Cotopaxi by Kayak.  Through the years, new ways down the river have been added. People compete on paddle boards, canoes and also rafts.

The event started in 1949. During the first year, only two people finished the race along the Arkansas River that used to go from Salida to Cañon City.  Competitors back then were ill equipped for the rapids. FIBArk Whitewater President Christopher Kolomitz said new technology and kayak designs has drastically improved safety, though it remains a top priority for race organizers.

Competitors raced on the same river that has taken three lives during the past two weeks.

On Saturday, Colorado Springs man died while rafting in the Arkansas River through the Royal Gorge. 

Investigators said Christopher Sevilla, 44, apparently had some type of respiratory problem before he and five other rafters were tossed out of a commercial raft while negotiating rough waters in the Royal Gorge.

Witnesses said Sevilla floated down the river before he was pulled to shore unresponsive at around 1:30 p.m.

Kolomitz said the Arkansas River was flowing at 2,700-2,800 cubic feet per second at the starting line for the classic race.

"A good way to visualize that is one cubic feet is one basketball," said Kolomitz. "(Imagine) there are 28 hundred basketballs going down the river per second."

Alli Gober organized safety teams along the river to keep competitors safe.

"There is a larger rapid on this race, it's called cottonwood rapid and we had two or three boats flipped over," said Gober.

Kayakers enjoyed Sunday's conditions in the river.

"It felt nice to have some push to the current," said kayaker Adam Putnam.

"The river is really running well this year," said race winner Andy Corra.

Corra has taken home a first place medal for the past ten years. He said the sport offers rewards and risks.

"Its one of those sports where you can't just jump right in," said Corra.

At 77 years old, Lynn Koester took home the title of oldest competitor. He said kayaking keeps him young. He has raced for more than 10 years.  He said years on the river has taught him an important lesson that everyone headed on the water should remember.

"They just don't realize how tough the river can be.  You have to respect the river," said Koester.

Koester plans to race until he is 80.




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