The best whitewater kayaking event in America
The rowdy and risky Green Narrows Race is something special
On Nov. 2 at high noon a massive crew of paddlers in peak form will descend on whitewater mecca Asheville, North Carolina for one of the top kayaking competitions on the planet, the Green River Narrows Race.
There is no prize money to be had, there is only glory, big rowdy crowds and also danger. Lots of danger. It is considered by many whitewater folks to be their Super Bowl.
“The Green race is one of the first-ever 'extreme races' where paddlers race through hard Class V rapids with serious consequences,” says kayaker Nick Troutman, a former world freestyle kayak champion from Beachburg, Ontario who will be returning to the Green Race again this year. “It also has continued its dedication to grassroots as it is volunteer-run and has no prize money other than the prestige of the title.”
But Super Bowl?
“I guess that depends on who you ask, but it is certainly one of if not the biggest race of the year in America,” he adds. “Like the Super Bowl, there is some international attention, but it is a much bigger deal in the US of A!”
Photo Nick Troutman
Troutman says what makes the Green Race special is the crowd, which can swell to the thousands, all of whom have to traipse down the side of a ravine in suspect conditions, often in costumes, or holding awesome signs, to get creekside.
“The Green Race spectators are much more committed. Instead of buying tickets to a game and sitting in some seats, it’s a free event but you have to commit to hiking a mile into this steep creek bed,” says Troutman. “The people that come out are stoked and committed rain or shine. There is also a big community feel as people come out to watch friends, hang out maybe enjoy a beer and have a really good time. This isn't "glamping" these spectators are the real thing.”
This weekend will mark the 24th running of the Green Race, a rare long-term success.
Water on the Green River is controlled via the Tuxedo Power station but very lively hydraulics at 216 cubic feet per second. As a result of the regular flow, year-round kayaking is possible on the river and one of the major reasons why the race has become such a legend, and why the Green has such a wicked reputation.
The Green River scene has also helped establish Asheville as a hotbed for whitewater.
Nick Troutman on the Green
The course is three-quarters of a mile and wickedly challenging “full-on class V savage whitewater,” and includes a narrow 18-foot drop dubbed the Gorilla. It’s a course that makes even the stoutest paddlers pause.
“It is daunting for sure. The course itself is challenging and technical. It is both physically and mentally daunting,” says Troutman. “People seriously can get injured, and that is a huge mental block for a lot of people including myself. Then you add the physical drain of a five-minute sprint, along with the fact that the hardest rapids are at the end when you are most physically tired. It’s tough.”
Then, there are the fans to contend with. They are part of what makes the Green Race so special, and they come in droves. But that much stoke in one slice of the river sometimes makes it hard to concentrate, and when your neck is on the line, that adds another element of risk.
“It’s both stressful and exciting,” Troutman explains. “Stressful because the crowds form at the hardest rapids to watch the success and failures, so you know you are about to drop into the "hard parts", but also exciting because the roar of the crowds is infectious and fills you with stoke and joy when you make the line.”
That being said, it’s hard to imagine a better environment for an event. True hardcore fans having a good time watching world-class kayakers put it all on the line. And you just never know what’s going to happen at the Green.
“I've seen all sorts of craziness. People dressed up in customs, spectators falling into the waterfall, tons of terrible crashes, and epic fast lines,” says Troutman. “It's always a new surprise what the Green Race will stir up.”
Lead photo Matt Hunt