Turbulent Waters

White water slalom racers undertake challenge of Winnipesaukee River in Northfield
By ED PIERCE | Jun 29, 2015
Photo by: ED PIERCE/CITIZEN KAYAKERS AND CANOERS braved the dangerous waters of the Winnipesaukee RIver in Northfield to compete in White Water Slalom Racing as part of the New England White Water Slalom Series on Saturday and Sunday. A total of 35 participants from six states traveled to Northfield for the event.

NORTHFIELD — To call white water slalom racing challenging would be an understatement.

Trying to navigate through a series of slalom gates while battling punishing white white rapids in a kayak or canoe as quickly as possible is not an easy feat and at the heart of what draws competitors to this unique sport, which made its return this past weekend to the Winnipesaukee River near Northfield.

"We have about 35 people here in the white water slalom races this year," said event organizer Amy Hunt. "The most difficult aspect of staging this competition is setting the course up. It's very physical and demanding."

White water slalom racing is a competitive challenge where the aim is to navigate decked canoes or kayaks through a course of hanging gates on river rapids in the fastest possible time.

Each slalom gate consists of two poles hanging from a wire strung across the river and a typical course contains 18 to 25 gates.

Many of the upstream gates are placed where the water is flat or moving slightly upstream so that the paddler has to navigate upstream through the gate. Downstream gates are placed in eddies to enhance the difficulty in navigating throughn the river currents.

Hunt said this was the third time white water slalom racing has been held in Northfield as part of the New England White Water Slalom Series.

Along with her father, Sonny Hunt, she also organizes the Blackwater Slalom Races every year in Webster.

The races include a number of categories for canoes and kayaks including men and women individual racing, combined team and tandem racing.

Jesse Cook of Honeoye Falls, New York, 38, was one of three generations competing in Northfield.

He is a two-time national tandem champion while partnering with his father, Michael Cook of Ithaca, New York. They were accompanied to the races by Jesse's daughter, Alexis Cook, 19, who is learning the sport while attending Alfred University.

"I like the unique challenge of navigating through the gates and the white water," Jesse Cook said. "This is my first time here in Northfield, but the best part of this is seeing people and friends you only see at these events."

He said he enjoys the sport because no matter your age, everybody has a chance to do well in every race.

"Like golf, nobody's good right out of the gate," Jesse Cook said. "But the more you work at it, the better you can become. There's nothing like being out there in the water."

His father, Michael Cook, 60, has been involved with white water slalom racing since 1992.

"I was taught by an Olympian," Michael Cook said. "He saw I was interested in an old wrecked canoe of his and asked me if I wanted to learn."

Michael Cook said that the nice thing about the sport is you can be competitive even as you grow older and it doesn't take much equipment.

"All you need is a kayak or canoe, paddles and a life vest," he said.

The season for white water slalom races typically includes events in the spring and fall and culminates with national championship races in North Carolina in October.

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Ed Pierce
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I'm a general assignment reporter covering Laconia and the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. My coverage responsibilities include Laconia city government and Laconia schools, feature writing, photography, veterans issues, breaking news coverage and the towns of Sanbornton, Tilton and Northfield. I'm originally from Rochester, N.Y. and obtained a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of New Mexico in 1988. My career has included serving as an Air Force journalist for eight years and I've worked as a news reporter, sportswriter, feature writer, columnist, news desk editor and sports section editor, managing editor and editor for a number of daily and weekly newspapers in New Mexico and Florida.

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