Potomac River Festival

2017 Great Falls Race: Working the Race by Todd Henson

The Potomac River rushes by as people prepare for the race. A slalom pole can be seen to the left hanging over the river.

In previous posts I’ve shared photographs of the racers in the 2017 Great Falls Race, an annual whitewater event on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. where kayakers and canoeists compete on the Class V rapids. In this post we take a look at some of the people who work the race, setting it up, monitoring and running it, and providing safety support when needed. Without these people there would be no race.

Working the race involves first getting to the edge of the river. People arrive by boat, haul their boat onto land, then set up at the edge of the river.

The folks who work the race arrive just as the contestants do, by kayak, canoe, or boat, over the river to the rocks on either side of the race lines. They have to haul their boats out of the water then hike over the rocks to the waters edge.

Some locations are more difficult to get to than others.

Setting up near the finish line to the race. This is below the last large fall.

Some of them run lines across the river to mark parts of the race. Some of the lines will hang the slalom poles which can be lowered during the slalom portion of the race and raised back out of the way during the classic race.

Lines are run across the river before the race.

Securing one end of a line to the rocks.

Some of the lines they run are safety lines to assure they don’t get swept away if they fall into the water. These are world class rapids with large volumes of water moving very quickly. You can see many of the people on the rocks have these safety lines.

People setup on both sides of the river.

Notice all the lines, some marking parts of the race, some hanging slalom poles, others for safety.

There are also people strategically staged along the course in kayaks ready to assist anyone who needs it in the water. Thankfully, it isn’t needed very often, but it’s good to have that support there when it is needed.

Sometimes people need assistance in the water when their boat overturns and they get pulled out into the river.

These races involve a lot of people, both in the race and behind the scenes. To any of you out there who do work these events, setting them up, tearing them down, working the river, know that your efforts are noticed and appreciated.

These amazing whitewater events are possible because of the hard work of the many people who work behind the scenes, along the river, and on the river.

A wide angle view showing the large numbers of people on the rocks. Some are race contestants, others are working the race.



The resources below contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

2017 Great Falls Race: Classic Race Winning Run by Todd Henson

Geoff Calhoun won the Classic race and was the overall race winner in the 2017 Great Falls Race, part of the annual Potomac River Festival. This is a whitewater event where kayakers and canoeists from all over congregate in the Washington, D.C. area to run some of the amazing Class V rapids along the Potomac River. The Classic race is a race for speed that in 2017 was run along the Virginia lines, which included the features: U-Hole, S-Turn, and the Spout.

Great Falls on the Potomac River showing major features. The 2017 race ran the Virginia lines.

Below are a sequence of photographs I captured showing Geoff Calhoun during his downriver final. Click on any of the photos for a larger view.

U-Hole

The race began just above U-Hole. Watch as his kayak dips down after going over that first rapid. You can see one of the suspended poles that was used during the slalom event, but it has now been raised up out of the way of the racers. Also notice all the crew and fellow racers along the rocks, most tethered to the rocks.

S-Turn

With U-Hole behind him, Geoff maneuvers his way into S-Turn, taking it from the top for a fast run straight through. He runs a line very close to the rocks on the left side before almost completely disappearing in the center of the turn. After emerging from S-Turn he straightens himself out quickly to continue moving downriver. In a couple of the latter photos you can see another of the slalom poles suspected high over the river.

The Spout

The Spout is the last major feature of the race and is the tallest individual drop at around 20 feet. Geoff angles himself right into the heavy flow of water and flies over the waterfall. The heavy spray of water at the base of the fall almost completely obscures him and his kayak, with just his helmet and paddle visible. That’s when I lost sight of him. It was a short sprint from there to the finish line.

Geoff Calhoun won the race with a downriver final time of 53.89 seconds, bettering his qualifier run of 56.88 seconds.



The resources below contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

2017 Great Falls Face: Slalom Event by Todd Henson

In a previous post I showed some of the amazing facial expressions on the athletes as they competed in the 2017 Great Falls Race, part of the Potomac River Festival, held at Great Falls on the Potomac River just outside Washington, D.C. This time around we’ll look at the slalom event, where kayakers and canoeists have to maneuver around hanging gates while moving downriver through rapids and over large falls.

The Slalom Course

Layout of the slalom course, part of the 2017 Great Falls Race.

I’ve included a photograph that shows the course of the slalom event. The pink line is the general path most folks took downriver. The red ovals are the gates. These are poles hanging from ropes strung across the river. The athletes have to maneuver around these gates in specific ways before heading further downriver, or they receive penalties. The race is scored based on how fast they make it from start to finish, along with any penalties they accumulate for missing or hitting gates.

The racers begin in the calmer water just above U-Hole. Click on the image for a better view and you might see a blue kayak up there waiting for his run. They drop into U-Hole and around the first gate before moving into S-Turn.

There are many ways to approach S-Turn. Some approach straight on from the gate hugging closely to the right side of the bank then angling into the turn. Others move more towards the left bank and turn before hitting the rapid, then rush straight through the rapids.

After S-Turn they need to turn their boat to get around the next gate, and from there quickly begin moving towards The Crack. Finally, after the large plunge from The Crack they need to recover and make it around the final gate. It’s easy to see their path on the photo, but it’s not nearly so easy for them to actually do it, as you’ll see in some of the images below.

Trouble Along the Way

This isn’t an easy race and sometimes racers run into trouble along the way.

Tad Dennis (bib 12) hit the middle gate after making it past S-Turn. He was canoeing instead of kayaking for this race. Notice he uses a single-sided paddle versus the double-sided paddle used by the kayakers.

Tad Dennis hits the middle slalom gate.

Here is a sequence of images showing a rough spot in the race for Jordan Poffenberger (bib 10). He was moving through S-Turn when the water flipped his kayak. But he recovered quickly and continued the race. This entire sequence covers no more than 4 seconds. This is fast moving water.

Running the Course

Here is a short sequence of images showing Geoff Calhoun (bib 1) beginning his slalom run by dropping over U-Hole, around the first gate, then angling towards S-Turn. Notice all the people on the rocks along the river, some tethered to the rocks, watching and ready to provide or call in assistance if there are any major problems.

Geoff Calhoun dropping into U-Hole during the slalom event.

Geoff Calhoun eyeing the slalom gate after dropping through U-Hole.

Geoff Calhoun moves around the first gate during the slalom event.

After the first gate Geoff Calhoun moves into S-Turn during the slalom event.

And now a sequence showing Jason Beakes (bib 5) going through S-Turn and angling towards the 2nd gate. His eyes lock on the gate just as soon as he surfaces from S-Turn. He still has to maneuver out of the flow from S-Turn and head towards the gate, but he is immediately focused on that gate.

Jason Beakes dropping into S-Turn during the slalom event.

During the slalom event Jason Beakes almost disappears behind the wild water in S-Turn. The 2nd slalom gate can be seen at the bottom.

Being propelled out of S-Turn, Jason Beakes' eyes lock onto the next slalom gate.

Before Jason Beakes can reach the next slalom gate he needs to maneuver himself out of the strong current from S-Turn.

After moving past the middle gate Jason heads straight for and over The Crack. He has a very deliberate and controlled descent, never losing control of his kayak. And even though he comes over The Crack at an angle, when he touches down he immediately angles himself around the final gate. Jason Beakes had the fastest run through the slalom and finished it with no penalties.

Jason Beakes enters The Crack during the slalom event.

There's not much room to maneuver in The Crack as Jason Beakes runs the slalom event.

Jason Beakes, exiting the tight confines of The Crack.

I love this image of Jason Beakes holding his paddle ready as he flies over The Crack.

Approaching the bottom at an angle, Jason Beakes prepares himself for the final slalom gate.

Jason Beakes almost disappears when he hits the bottom of The Crack. The slalom gate is now in view to the right.

Jason Beakes moves around the final slalom gate, finishing with the fastest time in this leg of the race.

Favorite Image

My favorite image of the slalom event was Tyler Uthus flying past the final gate after having flown over The Crack.

Tyler Uthus flying past the final slalom gate.



The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.