AHRA is a proud sponsor of the Downriver Races.
Sunday, from 8:30 AM on. See schedule for specific division start times.
FIBArk’s signature event, the Classic Downriver Race is the longest, oldest, most prestigious and perhaps the toughest race in North America.
The Downriver Race is truly an athletic marvel and continues to be one of the most respected (maybe even feared) whitewater races. Competitors negotiate Class III rapids that would be challenging to a well rested boater. Add the fatigue of paddling at race pace for twenty-six miles and one can start to understand the difficulty of this event. Spectators follow the race down the canyon or watch from one of the access points along the way. Enter the Downriver Classic or the shorter Intermediate or Novice Race and be part of the tradition!
“Whitewater hell” / “The meanest stretch of whitewater in the world” / “The longest, oldest, most prestigious and perhaps the toughest race in North America”
The FIBArk boat races started in 1949 when six boats entered the Arkansas River in Salida on their 57 mile run to Canon City through the vertical cliffs of the Royal Gorge Canyon. Fueled by the spring snow pack runoff, the river water ripped down the canyon creating tremendous currents and boiling rapids. “An invitation to death” claimed the boaters as they looked over the course, but of the 23 entrants in the race that year only two Swiss boaters reached the finish line. The following year the race was shortened to 45 miles excluding the dangerous Royal Gorge waters ending in Parkdale and, although ten boats entered, again only one man finished the race. The third year the race eliminated portages and single-boat teams and was set at its existing length of 25.7 miles from Salida to Cotopaxi. Eleven boats entered that year and ten were able to finish.
This Classic Downriver Race is still the longest whitewater race in the United States.
It is not clear if the original idea came from idle talk over coffee or a dare for bragging rights over beer, but word of the Arkansas River Race challenge travelled quickly. The original boat races were organized by the Salida Chamber of Commerce to attract people to the area and to promote international relations with foreign countries. World class athletes were invited to Salida and over the years, boatmen from France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Scotland, Israel, Italy, England, Switzerland, Austria, Mexico, Canada, and the USA pitted their skills against the roaring, boulder-strewn river.
By 1954 the First in Boating Arkansas River Klub (FibARK) was formed to organize the Salida-Arkansas River online blackjack with real people Boat Races. The City of Salida embraced the event and a four day festival and elaborate parade were organized. A special train, arranged by the Denver & Rio Grande Western, carried hundreds of people as it followed the race down the river from Salida and estimations of 10,00 people or more lined the banks of the Arkansas to watch the boaters battle for survival.
During the first years, every conceivable type of hooligan craft was used to navigate the river. The boats that won, however, were the fast, maneuverable, covered kayaks that were used by the native Northern Americans and developed as foldboats in Germany in the early 1900s. The first foldboats boats used in the 50s weighed up to 80 pounds, but in the next decade, kayaks were being made of fiberglass weighing as little as 17 pounds, allowing kayaks to become long, sleek, stable and FAST. A fiberglass kayak is still the kayak of choice for the Classic Downriver Race.