Fort Wayne La Classique June 19, 2021
By Steven Horney
Race day was looking questionable as we prepared Saturday morning. Storms had run through the area, and some were wondering if the races might be cancelled. Silly paddlers; they should know by now that we might cancel a race for a tornado, but rarely for anything less. Lightning and rain just add “inspiration” to our paddling performance. As it turned out, the storms had run their course and cleared out nicely as registration began. It appears that Lori Schaffer had prayed for a particularly nice day, and the Almighty obliged. Temps were pretty comfortable, a nice change from the blistering temps that so often accompany this race, and the full foliage gave plenty of shade as well as beauty to the course.
Lori did not race herself, opting to time the event instead, but we had quite a representation of paddlers for her race. Our surprise guest was Hollie Hall from Ohio. Hollie has been the reigning USCA National Champion in K1 Open Woman for the past few years, and she’s likely one of the fastest female kayak paddlers in the land. George (her husband, a great guy and avid paddler himself) and Hollie heard about our race and made the 4+ hr trip after going for over 4 weeks with no local races. Self-training only goes so far, and they wanted some serious competition. Ironically enough, there was a tornado near their hotel in Ohio Friday night, but thankfully it didn’t come our way. Or we might have actually needed to cancel the race.
On the new side of the equation was Kymberly Byers, a first-time kayak racer. Kymberly ran the full course with enthusiasm, and put in a very good time even with a recreational boat and paddle. She’s quite enthusiastic about moving up in the sport with a better paddle and kayak, so watch out competitors! Not exactly new, but newer was John Christensen. John usually races with us a couple of times a year at our Fort Wayne races, but this year he had a new secret weapon: an Epic 18 Endurance carbon and a wing paddle. The 18 Endurance is an older design, but still a very fast sea kayak, as John proved Saturday when he just edged out Brent Ernsberger for the Sea Kayak class win.
Now on the classic side of the equation we had a couple of racers from the past who reappeared to give this race some flavor: Jim Anderson, who for years ran this race and put in a good many miles on this part of the river, and Steve Evertson who raced a good many years but has been doing more recreational and expeditionary paddling as of late. It was a real treat to have these paddlers back on the water. Not to mention Roger Crisp utterly dominating the over 80 class! Roger’s daughter Julie came along the make sure Roger stayed out of trouble, and to help with the running of the race. Speaking of Julies, my wife Julie also came out to cheer on the racers. It didn’t make me dominate the race, but it sure was awesome to hear her cheering me on at the river side!
Side note about my Julie: I picked up a new hydration setup prior to the race – basically a tube system that attaches directly to a water bottle. When I showed Julie the new system, now attached to a large bottle of Fuji water, she laughed and said it looked like the system George Tinsley and Hilman Culp use (a dish soap bottle with a tube through a hole in the cap and duct taped in place). So she wrote “Palmolive – You’re soaking in it” on the side. J Those of you who remember the old Palmolive soap commercials will understand!
As for the running of the race, it shaped up this way: lining up for a down-stream start, we charged toward the St Joe Center bridge for our first turn. Several of us started out hard, gradually settling into our initial lineup to the bridge. Ted, paddling his classic down river boat ran neck and neck with Hollie in her surf ski, both of them pulling away from the rest of the group. I had charged ahead in my OC1 and hoped to keep Bill Kanost at bay at least until the bridge turn (about .9 mile from the start), but ‘twas not to be; ol’ Bill pulled past me on the way down and refused to relinquish the lead for the rest of the race. Brent Ernsberger and John Christensen passed me before the bridge as well. Coming out of the bridge turn I followed Bill going up the middle of the river, but then I noticed Jim Anderson starting to edge past me on the left side. Knowing that no one knows this river like Jim, I moved over and latched on his wake, riding it most of the way to the Mayhew Bridge, our turn point at the opposite end of the course. This proved to be a wise move; hanging behind Jim we gradually reeled in Brent and John in pursuit of Bill. Jim did take me through some branches and log gaps on the river, but I managed to hang with him through most of it until near the bridge turn.
Approaching Mayhew Bridge, I had fallen a short distance behind Jim, but managed to pace him. Then low and behold Brent Ernsberger came up and passed me, moving his sea kayak really well. I latched onto Brent’s wake and rode it to the bridge turn where we caught Jim. Now Jim decided to use a turn technique where he put in a reverse stroke on the turn side to kick his canoe around, but that essentially brought his boat to a stop – and stopped Brent and myself in the process. Coming out of the turn Jim and Brent pulled ahead again, with me pacing them but unable to make up the distance. Brent then managed to pull ahead of Jim and Jim latched onto his wake. Now I had assumed during this time that John Cristensen had fallen back a ways, so I was surprised to suddenly see John appear to my side, and he was making his kayak move. He fairly rapidly caught up to Brent and Jim, tagging onto their wakes. At some point Jim decided he didn’t want to interfere with their race and he felt like cutting back a bit, so he dropped off and let Brent and John run on their own. John apparently rode Brent’s wake until near the end, where he sprinted around Brent and managed to edge him out by 1 second!
Well before Brent and John came in, Ted and Hollie were duking it out, running a tight race nearly all the way. Ted managed to take the overall win by 16 seconds, but what a competition that was! While awaiting the return of the rest of the gang, Ted and Hollie swapped boats and tried out some different rides. I had passed Jim and was nearing the finish when I saw Ted paddling upstream in Hollie’s SEA; Ted in a surf ski must be a sign of the apocalypse!
Behind me Jim Anderson and the Gilman team came in for a photo finish, with Jim finishing 1 second ahead of the Gilman C2. Deb Kanost paddled to the finish just a couple minutes after, with Matt Conrad following a few minutes later. Matt is usually pretty strong in his Sea Kayak, but he told me before the race that he had been operating on very limited sleep. Kymberly Byers followed in her recreational sea kayak a few minutes after Matt. Then Steve Evertson and Roger Crisp closed out the race. It was great seeing Roger and Steve paddling side by side for much of the race, two of our senior paddlers still chewing up the course. Great job guys!
No afternoon races were initially planned, but a few rounds of “I will if you will” followed with a suggestion that we have a short race to the St Joe River Bridge and back (about 2 miles) with opposite boats, and a race was set. Hollie and Ted switched to canoes, with Hollie in my OC1 and Ted in his C1, while Bill and I switched to kayaks, Bill in his Nelo and me in Hollie’s SEA. Bill and I ran side by side most of the way to the bridge, with Bill pulling ahead into the turn and pulling off a much tighter turn. I gained some back on the return trip, but not enough; Bill was triumphant again. And Ted managed to hold off Hollie once again. But mostly we all just had a lot of fun!
At one point between the races it was decided to have a photo with all who were current or past USCA National Champions; we had 8 champions present! Many thanks to all who attended, and to Lori for putting on such an excellent race! Results are shown below.
Morning Races (10 mile, corrected 6.21.2021)
1st Bill Kanost 1:37:23
2nd Jim Anderson 1:42:39
3rd Steve Evertson 2:05:01
1st Guy & Sonja Gilman 1:42:40
1st Ted Beatty 1:28:04
2nd Hollie Hall 1:28:20 (1ST K1 Unlimited Woman)
3rd Paul Kane 1:35:33
K1 Sea Kayak Man
1st John Christensen 1:39:20
2nd Brent Ernsberger 1:39:21
3rd Matt Conrad 1:48:14
4th Roger Crisp 2:04:40
K1 Sea Kayak Woman
1st Deb Kanost 1:44:33
2nd Kymberly Byer 1:51:36
1st Steven Horney 1:40:48
Afternoon Race (2 mile)
1st Bill Kanost 17:23
2nd Steven Horney 17:28
1st Ted Beatty 19:58
1st Hollie Hall 20:10