The Nantahala Gorge was filled with spectators and competitors of the ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships Sept.2-8. The ultimate whitewater event took place at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) and featured top freestyle athletes from around the world, as well as a slate of activities, competitions and events for spectators and fans. More than 300 of the world’s best paddling athletes competed for the title of world champion in front of an estimated 10,000 spectators per day. Live music, arts and crafts, and a festival atmosphere with Appalachian flair rounded out the weekend.
A Parade of Athletes opened the event with athletes marching through crowds of people sporting their nation’s flag and getting rousing cheers from the spectators. Speeches were made by ICF officials and event hosts to welcome all athletes and guests. After the official opening, the Warriors of AniKituhwa performed a traditional Cherokee dance. Spectators also had the opportunity to watch the “Big Air Show,” where kayakers launched their boats off a custom-built ramp into the Tuckasegee River in downtown Bryson City. Athletes and paddling enthusiasts took on the challenge of the ramp and showed off their best moves to onlookers watching from the Everett Street Bridge.
The main events revolved around freestyle kayaking. Kayakers from 45 different countries competed by performing a variety of tricks on a stationary river feature like the manmade Wave of the Nantahala located right in front of the NOC facility. Here competitors performed almost 30 different tricks that included cartwheels, flips, vertical turns called blunts and other tricks that are named with a little more originality like the Roundhouse, the Phonics Monkey, the McNasty and the Donkey Flip. The athletes were given a set amount of time to perform their chosen moves and were then judged on the number of moves and how well they did them.
This premier international athletic event was hosted in the Nantahala Gorge, and was brought to Swain County through the efforts of the Nantahala Gorge Organizing Committee (NGOC), a community organization comprised of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, the Golden Leaf Foundation, VisitNC, and a number of local businesses. NGOC's objective for the event was to deliver a superior quality freestyle kayaking event and establish a legacy for the region as the premier, world-class outdoor recreation destination in the southeastern United States, attracting national and international events to the area.
The 2013 Wave was created by a Wave Shaper, an underwater concrete structure that alters water flow which enhances the existing drop at that point of the river and creates a world-class competitive feature. In 2011, the Golden Leaf Foundation awarded the Swain County Tourism Development Authority a grant of $195,000 to fund the construction of the 2013 Wave. The new 2013 Wave was modified to create an optimal freestyle feature. A revolutionary digital scoring system, unveiled for the 2012 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Cup Series by Nantahala Outdoor Center, allowed for real-time results, athlete info, and play-back potential, resulting in unprecedented spectator engagement in the competition.
Tyson Stager, a Franklin resident who works for the United States Forest Service said that there was certainly a large turnout as he directed pick-up and drop-off buses through the congested area around the NOC.
“The turnout has been crazy,” he said. “There's people from all around the country and all around the world that have come here for this event so we're doing the best we can to get everybody safely squared away so that they can enjoy the events and festivities.”
Graham Mashburn, another Franklin resident, went to see what all of the fuss was about last week.
“The weather was too nice not get out and see the sights. I had heard about the kayaking championships so I rode my bike to the NOC,” said Mashburn. “It was a lot of fun to watch the fun boats doing their tricks and I couldn't even begin to tell you how many different tags I saw on the vehicles in that one small area."