In-State Whitewater Racing
Fog rolled off the cool water of the St. Francis River as kayaks and canoes rolled off nearby cars.
This is the Whitewater Association's 40th year, making it one of the oldest club races left in the country. The Missouri Whitewater Championship draws dozens of paddlers to southeast Missouri, not just from this state, but from across the country as well.
Chris Kelly is no stranger to this race. He's traveled from Columbia to the St. Francis for the last 20 years, and he says this river can't be beat.
"It is the best whitewater river," said Kelly. "There are some creeks that come up that are great, but they're hard to catch."
At the race on Saturday, predefined course challenged boaters' skills and abilities in maneuvering the river.
"You have a combination of green gates and red gates," said Cathy McCredie, another race participant. "The green gates are what we call 'down gates.' You approach them from upstream and go downstream to manuever them. The red gates, on the other hand, are what we call 'ups.' You have to go below the gate, downriver."
After a few practice runs, some pre-race warm-ups, and directions, the race was on. Spectators lined the rocky banks to cheer paddlers along.
Contestants had to be weary of rocks in the shoots, among other dangers.
"I'm making sure that everything goes safely and smoothly and making sure that nobody has an trouble coming down the shoot," said Ben Corrado, who was in charge of race safety.
Sections of the St. Francis River can be especially treacherous during high water, and officials with the Whitewater Association say novice boaters should not attempt to maneuver them. However, no major injuries occurred and for most, the race proved to be a success.
Missouri is not known for its whitewater, but enthusiasts say there are a few prime spots in the state.
"The creeks around this area are just fabulous," said race competator Diane McHenry. "They're up there, top-notch with things you might see in Georgia or and North Carolina and Tennessee and Alabama. It's cool because it is right here."