Rapid Rise: Kayaking Olympic Trials

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Rapid Rise: Kayaking Olympic Trials

By Tim Farley

OKLAHOMA CITY – Potential Olympic athletes will push themselves to the limit on Oklahoma City’s new whitewater rapids course May 7-8 while at the same time a family of four is rafting down an adjacent recreational lane for the first time.

That scenario, which could actually become reality, was behind the design of Oklahoma City’s $45 million RIVERSPORT Rapids project, funded by the MAPS 3 penny sales tax.

Media members were treated to an early show of the whitewater rapids recently, in particular the competitive course, during a tour at the Boathouse District. Experienced kayakers gave reporters and photographers a glimpse of the action that will take place when the Olympic Trials are held, which is one part of the facility’s grand opening. The Olympic qualifying event will decide which athletes compete this summer for gold in the canoeing, kayaking and slalom events.

David Hepp, vice president for RIVERSPORT Adventure Park, said Oklahoma City’s facility, with its Olympic-style course, is the best manmade whitewater rapids in the nation and among the tops in the world.
“This is top notch. It’s awesome,” he said. “Oklahoma City has a true gem now. It’s a game changer. Many cities in the U.S. would crave it.”

The whitewater rapids is the latest addition to a Boathouse District that already has drawn acclaim for its ability to host Olympic qualifying events for rowing on the Oklahoma River and for its many amenities that attract competitive rowers and families wanting to enjoy a day of water recreation.

Hepp, an alternate on the U.S. slalom team in 2000 and 2004 and a member of the national team for 10 years, said Oklahoma City’s whitewater rapids course is similar to the facility that hosted the 2012 London Olympic Games. Hepp’s credentials go beyond his days as a world-class competitor. He also started the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C.

The grand opening weekend has been dubbed “Road to Rio” since the 2016 Summer Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“You will never find a better weekend to experience all that the Boathouse District has to offer,” said Mike Knopp, executive director of the OKC Boathouse Foundation. “You’ll get a taste of what the Olympics in Rio are all about, see the nation’s top whitewater slalom athletes in action, watch rowing on the Oklahoma River and enjoy live music, great food and, of course, fireworks.”

Kayaking and rafting fans will also be able to participate on the recreational course as the potential Olympic athletes compete for a spot on the national team.

“We want to let as many people as possible get on the water during this opening weekend,” Knopp said. “This is Oklahoma City’s whitewater center and we want everyone to experience it.”

Hepp anticipates a large crowd for the opening weekend, especially with the Olympic Trials serving as the centerpiece.

“It’ll be packed,” he said, estimating potential attendance from 5,000 to 20,000 fans.

The grand opening celebration also will include a rowing regatta on the Oklahoma River. More than 1,500 youth rowers will compete in the U.S. Rowing Central District Youth Championships, a qualifier for the national championships later this year.

Food will be available to all patrons from RIVERSPORT Rapids’ new restaurants and some of Oklahoma City’s best food trucks. Live musical performances will be held throughout the weekend. The festival activities are free, but parking is $10. RIVERSPORT Rapids rafting and adventure passes will be available online at riversportokc.org and at the festival. Rafting passes are $49 per day and include all RIVERSPORT Adventure activities.

Whitewater plans
Hepp and his staff are looking for people who want to become certified whitewater rapids guides.
“We’ll be training staff on Saturday. It’s a week-long school,” he said. “Every rafting boat will have a guide so it’s the guide’s responsibility to keep everyone safe.”

For the experienced kayakers, most will bring their own gear. However, those who want to learn more about the sport can take lessons at the Oklahoma City facility and then receive their gear free.

The recreational course is 1,400 feet long and the competitive course is 1,000 feet long with varying degrees of obstacles and water flow. The recreational channel will make rafting accessible to just about everyone. Trained raft guides will brief rafters on safety and technique, and will steer each raft trip down the channel. The competitive channel offers high-octane Class IV rapids on the Olympic-style course and will challenge elite athletes from around the world for both training and competition, according to the Boathouse web site.

A ribbon cutting for the whitewater rapids is scheduled for April 28.

For more information, visit www.boathousedistrict.org.

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