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downriver races

As FIBArk’s signature whitewater event, the Downriver Race is the longest, oldest, most prestigious and perhaps the toughest race in North America.

rules & requirements
Requirements:

Participants must wear a helmet and PFD.  Participants are not disqualified if they accept help from another racer or from a safety boat.  Boaters must have successfully paddled their craft through Browns Canyon, and must have Class III-IV self-rescue skills.  You must bring a cell phone in a drybag on your body.  You must submit a questionnaire after registration, along with a photo of yourself in Zoom Flume in the boat you’ll be racing (a selfie at the bottom of Zoom Flume is fine).  Photo to be submitted by Friday of FIBArk weekend by 6 pm. Participants must be capable of self-rescue in class III-IV water.

 

*Requirements of showing a photo below Zoom Flume is just for the Marathon race, which requires passage through those rapids.  

Rules:

Participants are not disqualified if they accept help from another racer or from a safety boat. No SUPs, no short boats under 9 feet.

Time cut off 11 am at Hecla enforced.

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-IV rapids that would be challenging to a well-rested boater. Add the fatigue of paddling at race pace for 26 miles and one can start to understand the difficulty of this event. Spectators watch from Ruby Mountain AHRA site, Seidel’s Suckhole, Stone Bridge AHRA site, Big Bend AHRA site, or watch the exciting finish live or from home using the live stream from the Salida Whitewater Park.

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Marathon:  

Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center to Salida Whitewater Park, 26 miles.  Rapids include Canyon Doors, Pinball, Zoom Flume, Big Drop, Seven Stairs, Widowmaker, Raft Ripper, Back Doors, Seidel’s Suckhole, Twin Falls, Squaw Creek Rapid, Boat Chute at the low head dam, and the Salida Whitewater Park.  Finish will be the boatramp hole in the whitewater park.  Safety boats will be stationed below Seidel’s Suckhole, Twin Falls, at the Boat Chute and in Salida Whitwater Park.  There will be no safety boats stationed through Browns Canyon until Seidel’s.  A sweep boat will follow the race.

 

Categories:

  • Long long boats 1 (Wildwater Glass Boats)

  • Long long boats 2 (Wavehoppers / Slalom Boats/Other long composite boats)

  • Long Boats (over 9 feet, plastic kayaks and open canoes)

  • Rafts

 
Heavy Half:

Hecla Junction AHRA site to Salida Whitewater Park, 14 miles.  Rapids include Seidel’s Suckhole, Twin Falls, Squaw Creek Rapid, Boat Chute at the low head dam, and the Salida Whitewater Park.  Finish will be the boatramp hole in the whitewater park. Safety boats will be stationed below Seidel’s Suckhole, Twin Falls, at the Boat Chute and in Salida Whitwater Park.

 

Categories:

  • Long long boats 1 (Wildwater Glass Boats)

  • Long long boats 2 (Wavehoppers/Slalom Boats/Other long composite boats)

  • Long Boats (over 9 feet, plastic kayaks and open canoes)

  • Rafts

 

Intermediate: 

Stone Bridge AHRA site to Salida Whitewater Park, 10 miles. Rapids include Squaw Creek Rapid, Boat Chute at the low head dam, and the Salida Whitewater Park.  Finish will be the boatramp hole in the whitewater park.  Participants must wear a helmet and PFD.  Participants must be capable of self-rescue in class III water. Participants are not disqualified if they accept help from another racer or from a safety boat.  Safety boats will be stationed at the Salida Whitewater Park.

 

Categories:

  • Long Long boats (Wildwater Race boats, Wavehoppers, Slalom Glass boats)

  • Long boats (over 9 feet- plastic kayaks, open boats)

  • Short boats (under 9 feet-plastic kayaks)

  • SUPs

 

Novice: 

Marvin Park to Salida Whitewater Park.  Rapids include the Salida Whitewater Park.  Finish will be the Office Wave (the top wave in the whitewater park).  Participants must be capable of self-rescue in class II water. Participants must wear a helmet and PFD.  Participants are not disqualified if they accept help from another racer or from a safety boat.  Safety boats will be stationed in Salida Whitewater Park and a sweep boat will follow the race.  Park at the Sand Lake parking lot at the east side of Sand Lake in Salida, and walk downstream on the bike path to find the put-in eddy.

event history

“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.  In 2019, the race was moved upstream to start in Browns Canyon and finish in Salida, shortening the distance to 14 miles, but adding two difficult rapids, Seidel’s Suckhole and Twin Falls.  In 2020, a marathon-length course was added, starting above Browns Canyon and ending in Salida.

 

The FIBArk Downriver Race remains 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 traveled 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.

 

The FIBArk downriver race inspired and excited competitors and spectators for many years!  Over time however, with the growing competency in the sport of whitewater paddling, the excitement of the FIBArk downriver race eventually waned among participants and spectators.  In 2019, to address the challenge of fewer competitors and spectators, FIBArk relocated the Downriver Race upstream, adding more difficult rapids.

 

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.  Currently the fastest boats winning the FIBArk Downriver Race are made of a weave of carbon/kevlar material similar to fiberglass.