2014 Punch Brook Slalom

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April 7, 2014 By Christopher Moore

The 2014 Connecticut canoe and kayak racing season enjoyed a quiet kick-off this past Sunday on the Farmington River in Burlington. The Punch Brook Slalom, a canoe and kayak race that has been in existence for roughly 40 years attracted 32 competitors, some from as far away as Rochester, NY who came to test their skills on a 16 gate course that was constructed over a section of the Farmington’s class II rapids.

“It went well” said first time Race Director Denise Dieli of Sunday’s competition, noting that in past years organizers have been forced to cancel the event due to low water levels and lack of participation, “we had some rain which was good, that really helped.” This year the Farmington was flowing well above the minimum level to hold the event. That combined with sunny skies on race day made for ideal conditions.

The 32 participants paddled roughly 60 different boats throughout the morning and early afternoon. Due to the variety of equipment in slalom racing (kayak, closed canoe, tandem closed canoe, open canoe, tandem open canoe) every competitor is able to race in multiple categories and most paddled at least one or two different boats in each session. Most competitors felt the course was moderately difficult with few failing to successfully make it through all the gates.

Sunday’s race was also the first event in the 2014 New England Slalom Series, an established racing circuit comprised of nine different events held in the spring and fall at various locations throughout New England. Many of Sunday’s competitors had plans to continue on to all of the New England Slalom Series races. “Our motivation is the perfect attendance award” said 65 year old Sandy Pratt of Rhode Island who, along with her husband Glenn, has a goal of attending every event in the series in order to achieve the special award given to each racer who completes at least one race run in each of the 9 races. For other racers the Punch Brook Slalom and other New England Slalom Series events are training grounds for more ambitious competitive goals. Thirteen year old Alden Henrie, who traveled all the way from Snow Shoe, PA to compete in Sunday’s event has the ultimate goal of paddling for United States in the Olympics. When asked his thoughts on the Punch Brook event Henrie replied “I liked it” but implied that he’d prefer something more challenging saying the Punch Brook course was “not in my optimal operating range.”

Though slalom is a timed race the vibe at Sunday’s event was more family canoe trip than intense athletic competition. Many of the out of town competitors camped at the race site, temporarily converting a small strip of grass adjacent to the Farmington River Rail trail into campground. Due to the logistics required to run a white water slalom race all competitors are also required to work as race officials during the sessions in which they aren’t competing. Though race organizers worked hard to set up the course prior to the event all participants chipped in to take it down once the competition was over. All these factors resulted in an event that was so low key that many of the bikers and walkers passing by on the bike path didn’t even realize there was a race taking place.

The next event on the Connecticut canoe and kayak calendar is the White Water Triple Crown in Tariffville April 12th and 13th. Considered the “the big one” by many in attendance at the Punch Brook Slalom, the Triple Crown combines Slalom racing and Freestyle kayaking in the infamous Tariffville Gorge whitewater.

For more information on New England Slalom Series canoe and kayak events click here: http://nessrace.com/

For more information on the Tariffville Triple Crown click here: http://www.tvilletriplecrown.com/

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