What a creek racing year for Mike Dawson. Capping off victories at the Paddling Life Invitational, Teva Games’ Homestake Race and Adidas Sickline Championships, New Zealand’s Mike Dawson ended the season with another feather in his helmet — and stained glass trophy for his windowsill: the coveted Green Race title.
One of the most famous and most grassroots competitive creek races on the planet, this year’s event marked the 15th annual running of the hair affair, held each fall on the western North Carolina’s Green River Narrows. This year’s race saw 174 starters, bringing the number of different people who have ever had the courage to enter it over its 15-year run to just 412. They battled it out in front of more than 1,000 onlookers who hiked or paddled in to catch the carnage near Gorilla (“The Monkey”).
It wasn’t easy for Dawson, who won it with a time of 4:26 and who also took the coveted Ironman title by hiking back up to paddle the short-boat division. On his heels the whole time was Isaac Livingston, who came in second four seconds back at 4:32.
“The race is unreal,” says Dawson, whose time was just eight seconds off Andrew Holcombe’s course record time of 4:18 in 2009. “There are so many awesome kayakers that come to race down big whitewater in 4-meter long boats down a river that drops over 200 meters, for no prize money but just for the fastest time.”
As usual, carnage came with the territory. ‘A lot of guys crash and burn big time,” says Dawson. “I smashed myself in the face, and got four stiches on the side of my eye of the river during the race.”
Winning the other categories were Adrienne Levknecht taking the crown for the women at 4:59; Tad Dennis taking the C1 crown in a new course record of 4:57; and Ketih Sprinkle winning the hardguy hand-paddle division in a new course record of 5:11.
Long Boat Mens
1st Mike Dawson 4’26”
2nd Isaac Livingston 4’32”
3rd Chris Gratmans 4’35”
Short Boat Mens’
1st Issac Livingston 4’52”
2nd Mike Dawson 4’53”
3rd Jason Beakes 5’03”
1st Adrienne Levknecht 4′ 59″
Complete Results: Click Here
Bonus: 13 Things You Didn’t Know About the Green Race
1. This year’s 15th running of the race was one for the record books, seeing the most competitors (174) ever and two new course records in the C1 and hand-paddle divisions.
2. The worst carnage ever befell Nick Easley in 2006, whose wreck in Gorilla (watch YouTube carnage here) caused him to suffer broken ribs, a concussion and a punctured lung, Easley spent a week in the hospital after hiking two miles out.
3. The water for the race is turned on by a guy named Frank, who works for Duke Power. The only time Frank felt ornery enough to crank it up to 250 percent—a super high flow for such monstrosities as Gorilla and Sunshine—came during Race #9 in 2004 when only eight racers had the cojones to show up (the race was cancelled but happened anyway).
4. Each year racers compete for a coveted stained glass trophy known as The Glass. Made by local boater Todd Graffe, the design varies every year, but never sways far from its roots: a kayaker descending Gorilla. Small trophies are handed out for the women’s, hand paddle and short boat categories, with The Glass reserved for the fastest paddler. So far it graces the windows of Clay Wright, Jason Hale, Al Gregory, Tommy Hilleke, Pat Keller, Andrew Holcombe and now Dawson.
5. Partying’s as much of the program as paddling. The race is book-ended by major ragers, which help racers settle their nerves.
6. Manufacturers get into the action. Over the years, the race has spawned several new kayak designs, including the 11’9” Remix 100 from Liquidlogic, 11’6” Momentum from Wave Sport, and 11’9” Green Boat from Dagger (which went to this year’s winner). “There’s a fine line between good speed and being able to run Class V safely,” says two-time winner Holcombe, adding that how a boat sheds water is almost as important as length.
7. The Green Man title goes to those racing both short and long boat categories (Glenn LaPlante set the tone in 2003 by entering the short, long and hand paddle divisions). This year 30 people did the sadistic combo, towing the extra kayaks behind them on the paddle in, stashing them at the start, and then hiking back up for run number two. “It was never that popular until Glenn did it,” says local John Grace. “You’re subjecting yourself to the same punishment twice.”
8. The race has never been won in a short boat (local Pat Keller won the first-ever short boat class in 2004). Today’s cutoff is 9 feet, but the specs change year to year. “It’s more a way to separate it from the faster race class,” says Grace. “We don’t want to alienate anyone from racing…it’s all about posting your own best time.”
9. The only year a banner has been at the race was in 2004 when Red Bull put a giant inflatable arch across the river near the finish line. Despite a raging Red Bull and vodka party, the commercialism was frowned upon and banners were never allowed at the race again (organizer Jason Hale rounds up just enough sponsorship funding to cover race costs and t-shirts).
10. It is good karma to yell “Ride the Lightning!” while launching off the launch-pad lip at the top of Gorilla. No one’s quite sure why it relates to kayaking Gorilla, but the term was coined during a high-water run by Tommy Hilleke and refers to metal band Metallica’s second album, released in 1984.
12. Anyone who wants to complain about the Green Race can get a refund of their entry fee for a $10 donation.
13. Racers employ different strategies to win. Newcomers keep a steady pace up top to reserve energy for Gorilla (“There’s nothing more helpless than surfing the Gorilla hole when you’re exhausted with tons of people yelling at you,” says Shane Benedict). Strategy two: go fast for the opening two minutes, then chill during the hard stuff before Gorilla. Strategy three (and what usually wins): go full out, but calm yourself above each technical drop. Most racers believe you win it up top and lose it at the bottom.