The 8th annual River Run - a canoe, kayak, SUP Race and Family Fun Paddle, on the East Branch of the Westport River, organized by the Westport River Watershed Alliance (WRWA) and Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures. All skill levels, all ages, invited.
Saturday morning, June 18, 2011, registration/start at Hix Bridge Landing, East Branch of the Westport River, celebration and awards ceremony at the finish line at The Head of Westport River.
When you’ve got two septuagenarians in one canoe and a seven-year-old with her mom, dad, and grandmother in another as entrants in the 2011 River Run, you know you have an event for the ages.
The 8th Annual River Run sponsored by the Westport River Watershed Alliance (WRWA) and Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures got underway at Hix Bridge Landing on Saturday morning, June 18. It was hard to distinguish what was more impressive - the assortment of plastic, carbon fiber and exotic wood watercraft floating around at the starting lines or the outfits and outlooks of the people in said watercraft.
Gone are the days when the only self-propelled vessels on the river were kayaks and canoes. Today’s flotilla includes SUPs (stand up paddleboards powered by a long pole) and “prones,” surfboards propelled by a paddler lying or kneeling on the board’s narrow deck. Try doing this balancing act and you’ll have a quick appreciation for the athleticism and endurance of these paddlers who do it for miles and call it fun.
The River Run’s five starting times were staggered from 9:15 to 10 AM to accommodate the type of vessel and the temperament of the paddlers. The 6.5-mile Challenge Paddleboard Race and Challenge Boat Races started fifteen minutes apart, headed south around Lower Spectacle Island then blasted back to the Head of Westport.
Samantha "Sam" Ladd (far R), co-owner of Osprey Sea Kayaks, issues instructions for the Family Fun Paddle while event co-chair Larry Hookey looks on.
Who knew that the competitive juices flowed in the ranks of contestants in the shorter 3.5-mile course from Hix Bridge to the Head of Westport? A Paddleboard Sprint and a Boat Sprint Race got underway within the next fifteen minutes with a good deal of cheering from the landlubbers on the dock.
The Family Fun Paddle, the laid back group that actually pays attention to the scenery en route, began casually cruising from the start line at 10 AM. “I’ve been interested in the science and beauty of the river for the past eight years and appreciate the Alliance's efforts to preserve it,” Westport resident Catherine Williams said as she piled into a canoe with her son, his wife, and their 7-year-old daughter.
By the time the ripples had settled at the Head of the Westport River, Ed Halpin, “going on 74,” and his young pal Pete Olson, 71, had blown past the finish line First Overall in their Kevlar canoe. The unassuming duo in Bud Light T-shirts and floppy hats has been paddling together for five years. They’ve earned the nickname “The Ringers” by churning down the waterways like a sea-going locomotive fueled by energy drinks and H2O.
The common denominators of the paddlers in each of the 53 boats in the River Run? Enthusiasm and a love of the beauty of the world as seen from the surface of a gorgeous river.
Westporter Rob Fisher has practically grown up on the river. “I’ve worked at Osprey Sea Kayaks for ten summers since high school,” he says. “I love seeing reactions from people as they learn how to navigate kayaks or SUPs. Westport takes on an entirely new personality when you see it from the water. I love introducing people to that.”
Sheila Hutchinson moved to Westport 30 years ago has seen a ton of that kind of scenery. “I’ve been kayaking for twelve years, long before it became as popular as it is today. I’ve paddled both branches of the Westport River, Assonet, Taunton, and Acushnet Rivers, and rivers in NH and in Bar Harbor.” She won the Senior Division of the Family Fun Paddle and knocked off some of the younger participants in the process.
Phil Casey of Little Compton, RI, finishes Challenge Race on his "prone" paddleboard.
The colorful pennants that come into view as the contestant’s vessels pass the last curve in the river gave some a boost for a final flourish of paddling and others a reason to smell the roses and let the incoming current drift them lazily past the finish line.
Ami Chitwood, winner of last year’s SUP race and runner up this year, was like a kid with a new toy as she raved about her “Joe Bark” manufactured paddleboard and praised the event. “I’m a huge patron of Osprey Sea Kayaks. I blame and thank them and the Westport River Watershed Alliance for getting me in the water in 2008. I look forward to this event all year long. Not to mention the watermelon from Lees Market is usually the best watermelon I get all year.”
Heather Cronin and Chloe Bachstein (foreground) smile for the camera at the finish line.
The smile on the face of teenaged Chloe Bachstein, who crossed the finish line in a double kayak with Heather Cronin of Dartmouth, was testament that her first race isn’t going to be her last.
The Westport River Watershed Alliance and Osprey Sea Kayaks are natural prime movers of the event but they could never pull this off without volunteers. Dozens of their supporters helped register participants, patrol the river as safety crews during the race, and serve food and beverages donated by Lees Market, Village Pizza, and Bittersweet Farms. Chief organizers were volunteers Anne Fitzgerald and Larry Hookey, who really have the planning down to a science after taking on the responsibility in 2004.
The shady, grassy hillside at the Head is a perfect setting for the race’s conclusion. A contingent of teenagers delighted youngsters by making outlandish hats from woven strips of colored paper and enthusiastically painted faces and arms of kids and adults alike. With 14 categories for awards (with 'fun' awards made up on the spot by Fitzgerald), the post-River Run celebration feels like an aquatic block party.
As in the past, the biggest winner is the Westport River, the natural resource that is the heart and soul of Westport.
WRWA Science Director Roberta Carvalho and board member Sheila Hughes at registration table and Safety Team duo Barbara and Bob Bridges of North Easton. "We got lessons at Osprey Sea Kayak 11 years ago- the Ladds are the best instructors east of the Mississippi!" Bob shouts enthusiastically.
Pre Paddle protection and pre paddle relaxation.
Polly Gardner and Brandon Gunderson can relax now...they just finished, and won in their divisions!
Marty Casey built his "prone" paddleboard from paulownia, a light, fine grained, soft wood. It is used as a reforestation tree in several countries. The gorgeous, blonde wood could double as a piece of sculpture if not for the rubber mat that helps keep him centered on it. “I spent 200 hours laminating and gluing this one together,” he says. “It weighs 23 pounds and has a hollow core.”
Paddlers from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont entered the 2011 River Run. Contestants hailed from Westport, Provincetown, Orleans, New Bedford, Plymouth, Hanson, Dartmouth, Carver, Lincoln, Uxbridge, Somerville, East Freetown, Cambridge, Hopkinton, Seekonk, Dover, Roslindale, Marion, Whitman, and Jamaica Plain, MA and Warwick, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton, and Barrington, RI and Saxton's River, VT.
6.5 Mile Challenge Course
Challenge Double Canoe
Pete Olson (Carver), Ed Halpin (Seekonk)
Michael DeVeuve (Hanson), Kendra Osgood (Hanson)
Challenge Single Canoe
Joe Lukaszevicz (Plymouth)
Challenge Single Kayak
Bev Bernard (Dover)
Larry Kidney (Westport)
Challenge Paddleboards – Prones
Phil Casey (Little Compton)
Marty Casey (Newport)
Challenge Paddleboards – SUPs
Brandon Gunderson (Dartmouth)
Ami Chitwood (Roslindale)
3.5 Mile Family Course
Family Fun Single Canoe
Polly Gardner (Little Compton)
Eric LaFrance (Westport)
Family Fun Double Canoe
Tate and Thomas Tarrant (Marion)
Abigail DeVeuve (Hanson) and Kevin Donovan
Tom Pierce (Westport)
Jeffrey McCarthy (Little Compton)
Sprint Single Kayak
Andrew Davis (Barrington, RI)
James Hunt (Westport)
Family Award – Largest Contingent
The DeVeuve Clan (Hanson, Hopkinton, Orleans, Westport)
Soares/SMS Plumbing (Westport, New Bedford, Warwick)
Yvonne Zuther with her pooch Maury (Westport)
Heather Cronin and Heather Bachstein in their double kayak (N. Dartmouth)
Seniors (60 or older)
Sheila Hutchinson (Westport)
Gerd Zuther (Westport)
The Williams/Dodge Family – three generations in one boat (Westport, Saxton's River, VT)
Youngest Paddlers (15 or younger)
Chloe Bachstein (N. Dartmouth)
Ross LaFrance (Westport)