Dousing and Makin’ Deals: Paddlesports Retailer Demo Day at Oklahoma’s Whitewater Center Goes Off Largetime

431
Rafters make their way down the Riversports Whitewater Course in Oklahoma City in August.

Holy Demo-day of all-time, Batman.

When Paddlesports Retailer moved its annual tradeshow to Oklahoma City this year, it did so primarily for access to the town’s new $45.2 million, Riversport Rapids Whitewater Center on the Oklahoma River.

And boy did it get what it wanted in spades, with more spills and thrills than the industry has likely ever collectively experienced in one place together.

Call it the Jetsons meet the Jacksons. That’s how the Class III-IV course felt, as after each run paddlers scootched their respective craft — kayaks, sups, catarafts, mini-rafts, IKs and even an inflatable bull — onto the George Jetson-like conveyor belt to be shuttled back up to the top of the course for the next round of douching.

Forget Fake News, most participants will take fake whitewater at any tradeshow. The grins stemmed largely from the quality of the whitewater on a course designed by five-time World Cup kayak champion Scott Shipley of S2o Designs — who knows a thing or two about fluid dynamics. With all six of the course’s pumps firing on all cylinders, and channeling flow into two different chutes converging into two monster waves at the end, it was continuous and big, causing flips, surfs and splashes, all under the watchful eye of safety personnel manning throw ropes from shore. Which was another beautiful aspect of the day. There was carnage everywhere, but you didn’t have to do anything about it. You could just paddle on by.

Peter Hall from Hala Gear surfs up the bottom wave to bluegrass music playing behind

While one course was “supposedly” harder than the other, they both felt like a condensed version of the Numbers section of Colorado’s Arkansas, with wham-bam—thank-you-maa’m hits throughout.

From Jackson Kayak, Nick Troutman and Dane Jackson shuttled retailers and others in Dynamic Duos down the course (making two of them swim), while rafters from Downriver Equipment paired up on rafts to give dealers a dousing. For the most part the course even proved too much for the suppers present, relegating them to sweet surf sessions on the bottom two waves.

“I can sup Class III, but not Class IV concrete,” said a scraped and throttled Peter Hall of Hala Gear after his first sinus-douching run down the course.

A couple of brave souls even took to the course in Hobie kayak-fishing pedal craft, with the expected results.

It was the bottom wave getting the most fanfare, however, just 10 yards away from a bluegrass band cranking out tunes from a stage on one side and a beer booth on the other. Between songs, you could hear announcer Ken “Hobie” Hoeve yelling, “Can you believe how great this is everyone?”

Paddlers taking the conveyor up for another lap.

The bottom wave was a carnage-fest, at one point seeing a sup surf into a bushy-bearded Southeast canoeist, only to have both hit by someone rowing through in an AIRE cataraft. And all around the mayhem were playboaters splatting the concrete walls, squirting the squirrelly eddies and looping in the holes.

Then, with the course open from 3 p.m until 10 p.m., with darkness came a changing of the pumps and water level to turn the top wave in the bottom arena into a monster of a retentive hole where the freestylers looped under the lights.

“It’s definitely the centerpiece of the demo day event,” says show manager Marcus Shoffner.

All it took was one glance at show co-founder Sutton Bacon watching the action from the bank to know it was a resounding success. “This is awesome,” he said. “It’s exactly why we decided to host the show here. Where else can you get everyone together like this on the water?”

The beta behind the course

Over the last ten years, Oklahoma City has invested more than $100 million in the Oklahoma City Boathouse District, the official U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) Training Site for paddlesports. It includes a world-championship caliber sprint kayak and rowing course, a $45 million Olympic whitewater river and slalom course, and a high-performance training center. The flatwater exhibitors set up shop with their demos on the banks of the Oklahoma River on one side of the center, with the whitewater folks doing the same on the other. Both areas let attendees test out boats, accessories and more, be the water placid or pumping.

The flatwater venue on the Oklahoma River.

Riversport Rapids Whitewater Center is the first pumped-park design in the world that offers a recreational channel, a competition channel and a combined-flow freestyle channel in the same whitewater venue. The Whitewater Center is located at the crossroads of two arterial highways and strategically placed within the city; a short water taxi or river walk away from Bricktown and downtow.

The Whitewater Center is part of the larger OKC Boathouse District Campus; encompassing a flatwater race and training channel on the Oklahoma River; a recreational boat house and multiple, local collegiate boat houses; a high performance training center; and an adventure center equipped with zip-lines, a climbing wall, and a dynamic-belay high ropes course. The boathouse district is also the headquarters for the USA Canoe and Kayak Federation and is designated as a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center.

S2o, as project lead, worked with the city, stakeholders, and sub-contractors throughout the planning and design process to create a design that is unique to the western United States. The Whitewater Center has the technology of a world class venue but also has the aesthetics and scale to blend into the existing Boathouse District Master Plan and the City of Oklahoma City. S2o lead the design, construction and construction oversight of The Whitewater Center.

The facility, which is also open to commercial rafting operations, has already hosted such events as R4 Rafting National Championships, which features a downriver marathon, sprint race, head-to-head elimination and slalom race; as well as a Whitewater Festival where athletes competed in the USA Canoe/Kayak Canoe Slalom trials to qualify for the 2017 World Cup.

In His Own Wrds: Course Designer Scott Shipley Chimes In

“The course was intended to blend in with the hyper-modern character of the Boathouse district while, at the same time, augmenting the other amenities there. The other boathouses speak to club (Chesapeake), Fitness (Devon), Music, Kids Play and active play, and there will be another university boathouse soon.  Our facility was meant to provide whitewater for family fun up to expert kayak racing on the competition channel. We designed it in the ultra-modern style and used our patented RapidBlocs Obstacle system to create it.  There are three channel systems, the Recreation Channel, the Competition Channel, and the Big Water Surfing Channel.

The Competition Channel is a straight race course that is fun to raft on as well. We placed a flexible system so that some fun things to do in races, such as S-turns, could be removed for commercial rafting.  We also created some areas you can recirculate for training.

The Recreation Channel is designed to grow with the community. More blocs and less flow, combined with tuning the whitewater feature out, make for a good beginner guided experience. When the culture begins to advance we can configure this system to a higher difficulty complete with five play waves designed to create surfing fun. We also designed in a custom-built swiftwater rescue training portion to this channel. This gives us the capability to put a car in the channel and to create scenarios the mimic real-life rescues. I’m a big fan of this program and it has since been adopted by a local university as a campus for part of their homeland security program.

The big water channel is designed to accommodate two tunable surfing features. These provide a bigger and a smaller wave, in front of the stage and in front of the restaurant so that freestyle and surfing can take place with concert and food and beverage.  Lots of great times to be had in this place.

Special features that we designed in also make it unique. We put a sculptural kayak boathouse that is visible from the “crossroads of America”: two interstates that meet in OKC. This and a waterfall aesthetic at the pump station serve to identify the channel to people passing on the interstates.

We also created the ability to watch movies on the pump station. The idea, since OKC is the home of Americana (see “Pops”,) that we would have a raft in theater. We have actually put connection points in to secure rafts in the same configuration as a drive in theater (in rows).  I hope you like your women in polypro!

We also designed-in areas to expand including a food truck row adjacent to the channels with hookups and water, and a second floor to the main building that will allow for expansion.

The park has been very well received and hosted the US Olympic Team Trials in 2016. ”

Info: OKC Boathouse Foundation, (405) 552-4040; www.riversportokc.org

Bonus: PL’s Experience

In all I tried six different boats on the course, including a cataraft from AIRE, the Mix-master, RockStar and Antix from Jackson, the Homeslice from Liquidlogic and the Ripper from Pyranha. While a few felt squirrelly in the artificially swirly waters, others felt right at home, leading to spins and grins. I got worked a couple of times, scraping upside-down along the shallow bottom until finding the wherewithal to roll, but relished each foaming faceshot. On my second-to-last run, with darkness encroaching, I ended up in the right channel, surfing the top glassy wave until noticing the water level starting to drop.

“Que paso con el aqua?” I asked one of the Chilean raft guides at the course’s bottom afterward. “What happened to the water?”

“Necessitas ir izquierda” he answered. “you have to go left.”

With that, I boated the left chute by Braille in the dark on my final run, the paltry lights illuminating only the adjacent walking path. Two guys were ahead of me R-2ing a 10-foot paddle raft, so I eddied out to give them some room. Minutes later, I paddled through, getting douched in the dark, only to see one of them clinging to a Lego-like block on the left and his partner to another on the right, their raft nowhere to be seen. They tapped their heads signaling they were OK, and I continued along my way. When all was said and done, I wanted to call course designer Scott Shipley and congratulate him on a job well done.

—Eugene Buchanan