I was fortunate to watch the 2017 Great Falls Race, part of the Potomac River Festival, where kayakers and canoeists arrive from all over to run the rapids of Great Falls on the Potomac River. The Potomac separates Virginia from Maryland and flows by Washington, D.C. not too far south of Great Falls.
The Great Falls portion of the Potomac has multiple Class V+ rapids that can be run along 3 major lines: the Virginia Lines, the Center Lines, and the Maryland Lines. They choose which line to race based on the water level of the river. For the 2017 Great Falls Race they ran the Virginia lines. This was my first time watching them run this set of rapids, and it was absolutely fantastic!
One of the things I really enjoy when photographing whitewater sports is capturing amazing facial expressions on the athletes. You can see such a range of emotions and expressions as they navigate some of the very challenging rapids. So the photographs I chose for this post exhibit some of that range of expression.
To set the stage, here is a photograph of Great Falls taken from the first observation platform on the Virginia side in Great Falls National Park. You can see the 3 lines, with the Virginia lines on the left side, the Maryland lines on the right, and of course, the Center lines in the center.
For 2017 they ran the Virginia Line. The overall event consisted of 2 race types. The first was a slalom that started through U-Hole, down S-Turn, then over The Crack to the finish line. You can’t really see the hanging slalom markers too clearly in this wide angle photo, but they ran rope across the river and hung poles to mark the slalom gates.
The second event is the Classic downriver race, which is all about speed. This race had a similar course to the slalom but they ran over The Spout instead of The Crack. The Crack takes more time to navigate because it’s so narrow, but they could really fly over The Spout.
Take a quick look at the rock between the Virginia and Center lines. You’ll see a couple kayaks laying on the rocks, and further up some people and more kayaks. This is what the athletes have to climb, with their boat, before they can make their next run. This is not just about going downriver in a kayak or canoe, it’s about climbing out of the boat, hauling it onto your back, and carefully climbing these rocks, hiking back upriver to above U-Hole, so they can run the next part of the event or just make a run for fun. They burn some serious calories out there.
Now on to the athletes and their awesome expressions. For each athlete there’s both the full-size image and a heavily cropped image where I zoom in to better show the expression. Click on any image for a larger view.
These athletes are incredible!
Jules Krinsky (Bib 42)
Before the competition even began Jules Krinsky ran the Center Lines. This image shows him dropping over one of The Fingers. The observation platform where I was viewing does not have completely unobscured views of the Center Lines, but I still liked this framed view.
Tad Dennis (Bib 12)
Here is Tad Dennis running his canoe over The Crack during the slalom event. Notice he uses a single-bladed paddle for the canoe, whereas kayakers use a double-bladed paddle.
Taylor Pittman (Bib 23)
Taylor Pittman has a great expression here as he maneuvers his kayak over The Crack during the slalom event.
Eric Orenstein (Bib 32)
Look at the focus Eric Orenstein has on the opening of The Crack during the slalom event.
Ian Wingert (Bib 6)
Ian Wingert works hard controlling his descent over The Spout during the Classic run of the Great Falls Race.
Scott Parsons (Bib 29)
Scott Parsons has a great expression as he works his way into the wild water of The Spout during the Classic run.
Jake Trotter (Bib 34)
Jake Trotter raises his paddle as he goes over The Spout during the Classic run. Notice the different angles everyone takes, some leaning more one way, some the other way.
Rhys Jensen-Jones (Bib 36)
I love this image of Rhys Jensen-Jones flying over The Spout during the Classic run. This photo does a good job showing the size difference between the short and long kayaks.
Alex Markoff (Bib 41)
I love the water kicked up by Alex Markoff as he moves over The Spout during the Classic run, his kayak almost completely below the surface of the water.
Pat Keller (Bib 3)
Here’s a great expression from Pat Keller as he fights his way into the S-Turn during the Classic run.
Collin Swan (Bib 16)
And here we see Collin Swan out of his bib after the race has ended. He’s flying over The Spout, getting in one more run before he leaves the river. Never stop photographing just because the official event has ended. These folks love running these falls so they will often go over them again before leaving.
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