By CHUCK BOLESH
Some will say of Canton Canoe Weekend, “As predicted it was chilly and rained all day Sunday” and others will say, “As predicted, it was a raging success” and they all would be right on the money. It was all of that and so much more.
Let's not dwell on the weather other than to say that it wasn't the best weather we've had for this weekend. “So just what was good about it?” I was hoping you'd ask:
Let's start with the last event of the weekend, not because it was the last but because year in and year out it has the most energy, the most fun.
It had been raining all day, temperature below 50, and come time for the relay there were 54 paddlers there ready to have fun. For the fourth year in a row, the Canton High School team, the Mustaches, was there in their costumes and winning the best costume award. Two adult teams, River Crew and Nature Up North, vied for the mixed team class with the River Crew wearing masks and costumes. It was great spirit before, during and after the 20-minute event.
And that's not all. There were six college teams ignoring the chilly rain and having fun with the spirited competition. From Paul Smiths College we had Skidmark' and the Ground Hogs; from SUNY Canton, Get Some and We Do It Outdoors; and from SLU, Boys Club and Brain Gas.
All 54 paddlers were eligible in the random drawing for prizes donated by local merchants and all paddlers received an award plaque donated by sponsor, GRB Newman Designs.
The events of the weekend started nicely Saturday morning with the Rushton Races for recreational paddlers, the weekend athletes 37 strong covering the various distances. The antique, touring and family paddlers were on a three-mile course. Of note there was Alan Thorbahn and his son Cameron in an original Rushton canoe. Alan has paddled in 35 consecutive Rushton Races, the most of any paddler, ever. The five-mile course included solo and tandem canoes and kayaks and “war canoes,” while the eight-mile course was reserved for the college C-4 challenge.
Saturday afternoon was as expected a battle of the elite C-1 marathon racers from throughout the region and beyond. Marathon paddlers train all year long and put hundreds of hours in training in their solo and tandem racing canoes before and during the season. They tend to race every weekend with their focus on several major events, one of them being Canton. For a small town we have one of the most challenging race courses on their circuit and they love Canton and the race.
This year, 46 solo paddlers in their skinny C-1 racing canoes covered the 14-mile pro course and 12-mile amateur marathon courses in 2-plus hours against stiff currents both up and down river. The favorite part of the course for many of them is windy Little River which usually finds all canoe and kayaks in the event on that short two-mile stretch at the same time. This makes the best viewing spot for spectators on the bridge just past the SLU facilities on Rt. 27. Of special note in this year's field was Calvin Hassell from Nebraska. Calvin, a nationally ranked marathon paddler, makes the trip most years, flying to Syracuse and borrowing a canoe from an Eastern paddler. The regional paddlers, the Rankinens from Pennsylvania and Schlimmers from Cortland finished near the top as usual, along with Marc Gillespie from Rochester, a major sponsor of the weekend. Taking top honors this year was Steve Lajoie from Quebec. Steve is always at or near the front and absolutely loves this event. Following him near the top of the field were six other Quebec paddlers helping to swell the numbers of paddlers needing lodging and restaurants and supplies.
The third event of the weekend, the Downriver Rushton Tour was moved from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. The course ended at Taylor Park instead of continuing down to the village and eliminating dangers and worries of having non-white water paddlers navigate the rapids under the Miner Street and railroad trestle bridges. Twenty paddlers started below the rapids near Pyrites, the start of the original Rushton some 53 years ago, and finished the shortened course in under an hour. Feedback from the paddlers was very positive about the shortened course, and that they were pleased that they could do it all downriver with their children and be comfortable. Two canoes continued on their own past Taylor Park. This new format will probably be the format for the future.
Sunday morning started cloudy and cool and we hoped for the same all day. Yet that was not to be, and one hour into the C-2 marathon event it started raining and did so for the rest of the day. The rain didn't bother the 70 competitors who covered the 14- and 12-mile courses in just over two hours. Of notable exception was the team of Guillaume Blais and Mathiue Pellerin of St. Biniface and Shawinigan Quebec, winning the 14-mile pro race in 1:59:33. The fastest amateur marathon team of Roger Henry and Becky Sutter of Rexford and Paul Smiths covered their 12 miles in 1:58:17. Both courses include equal amounts of up- and down-river paddling.
The next event on the local recreational and marathon canoe and kayak racing calendar is the Madrid Canoe Regatta, June 7 and 8.
Information about this and other paddling events can be found on the St. Lawrence Valley Paddlers website http://www.slvpaddlers.org/.
Chuck Bolesh is a longtime paddler and promoter of paddle sports, particularly the Canton Canoe Weekend and the Rushton Canoe Races, along with all the other competitive and recreational events around the county organized by the St. Lawrence Valley Paddlers.