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The First Annual North Carolina Tuck Fest Recap

The First Annual Tuck Fest in North Carolina was much more than your typical SUP race.  The combination of music, athletes, party goers and fun hogs culminated in one of the funnest and most diverse weekends I have had in a long time.  The first big event of the season for the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte NC saw thousands of people culminating on their 1000 plus acre facility on the grassy lawns surrounding the whitewater channels.  The Stand Up Paddlers were treated to fun and challenging river channels ranging from class1 to class 4 whitewater.  No where in the world are you going to find such challenging whitewater in such a sfe environment like you will at the USNWWC.  Dozens of events dotted with local and regional bands continued through out the days of the event including kayak, raft and sup races, extreme whitewater wakeboarding demonstrations at night under lights, running and mtn biking races all over the facility on the numerous trails and all simultaneously.  The weekend then ended in a rubber ducky charity race that included releasing 20,000 rubber duckie’s into the whitewater channel.  It was a wild combination of elite athletes, partiers, and the general public dotted with families, kids and kannine companions.  Everyone had a blast and weather albeit a bit chilly was sunny and bluebird.

The Stand Up events were super fun and included a 2 and 4 mile flat water race starting Saturday morning.  I got off to a great a start on my 12.6 Allstar and was able to keep Michael Tavares on his 14’ in sight but I just didn’t have enough to catch or pass him and settled into a comfortable pace for 2 laps around the Island adjacent to USNWWC flatwater dock where we started and finished.  25 racers from elite to first timers all participated despite the chilly 58 degree morning and slight North winds.  By 10:00 everyone had finished and it was off to the whitewater channels for the some practice runs before the Whitewater SUP cross competition.  A quick bite at the café and a bit of rest and I was ready to go.  I pumped up my Starboard Astro Whopper Deluxe 10’ and started sizing up my competition which was stiff.  Seasoned SUP whitewater paddlers, Olympic kayakers, and especially the USNWWC Center staff were all taking practice runs and I was impressed with their abilities.  I was seeing history being made before my very eyes and above all else was excited to see this Genre of Stand up paddling growing and this was epic proof.  The competition would start with a straight down run of the class 2-3 channel known as the rodeo channel each paddler would get a time for seeding of the SUP cross heats.  This helps to spread out all the racers with in the head to head heats and make it a fair playing field form everyone participating.  2 Women and 12 men made the start and after the initial timed runs I was sitting in forth place after a conservative run.  I was very focused on staying upright and completing the challenging course on my feet.  Lots of racers found them selves in the drink swirling around in the powerful eddies and boils that dotted the course.  After the timed runs all of the competitors got seeded into heats which spread out all of the fastest paddlers into different heats.  The only 2 women of the day would compete in their own one on one heat to decide who would be the first ever Tuck Fest women’s champ.  One thing that that did change and make it exceptionally more challenging was the addition of 4 turn obstacles which required us to catch and navigate the eddies and pass around the gates in an upstream fashion similar to slalom kayaking.  This made for some exciting moments and major upsets as every heat had several passes and wipeouts which would determine who would advance from the mens heats into the last final round of 6.  In the quarter finals we were grouped into 3 guys per heat and lined up at the top of the nearly .25 mile course.  We would sprint about 150 meters to the first left turn gate and continue down the course.  Missing a gate, maliciously taking out another competitor, or loosing your board would result in an automatic DQ so staying with and on your board was paramount.  For safety reasons we would not use leashes which meant if you fell scrambling on to your board quickly enough to make the next move was mandatory.  Each of the 4 three man heats had plenty of contact and crashes and it came down to who fell the least and scrambled to quickest.  Unfortunately for me that meant not advancing after taking the lead about half way through the course I got off balance and a raft that had happened to come out of nowhere blocked by line while in hot pursuit my 2 competitors took advantage of the opportunity although all 3 of us had fallen off our boards.  I subsequently swam into a sticky hole which kept my board and left me swimming downstream with out it and missing the last gate.  From first to last seemed to dominate the heats and there was a lot of passing in the last 100 meters of the heats determining who would advance into the final round of 6.  The final had experienced WW Sup paddlers combined with Olympic caliber slalom kayakers who had extensive experience on the course and employees of the USNWWC who battled it out in an exciting final that saw the Olympic Kayaker taking the Gold and having a good chuckle at the end of the day because he was the same athlete to win not only the SUP but also every kayak and raft race as well.

A huge thank you goes out to the organizers of this years Tuck Fest and the US National Whitewater Center for having the vision to support SUP Whitewater racing.  I am already looking forward to next years event which is sure to attract more athletes and Whitewater SUP enthusiasts form all over the Country.  Thanks to Starboard, Trident Sports and Urban Ocean for all the support I received over the weekend.

Many thanks to Mac Barnhardt and Urban Ocean for the pics!

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