When Jasper Raft Tours (JRT) pulled up near Alpine Village 20 minutes after the scheduled start time of the first event, there was more than a hint of admiration for their display of cocky disregard. These were the veterans, after all, and to prove it, they had their boat at the start line faster than Ben Cox could relieve himself in the bushes. As the five competing squads sized each other up, each “rubber” joke being told louder than the last, team captains drew for pole position: Maligne Adventures picked best, with JRT in behind. Two boats representing Jasper Rafting Adventures—a merger/mashup of companies formerly known as White Water Rafting and Rocky Mountain River Guides—drew the shortest straws, while Grande Cache’s Wild Blue Yonder started in the middle of the pack. When judges blew their whistles, the paddlers dashed towards Old Fort Point while spectators simultaneously scrambled into buses and onto bikes, hoping to beat the boats there. As it turned out, Maligne sprinted the swiftest, their ape-like arms ploughing through the whitewater for a clear victory while Wild Blue Yonder, whose call-ups were used to pushing paper, not paddles, finished in fifth.
Although the Grande Cache team stole the show from local rafters three years ago, with a mere 10 points on the board after the sprint, their work was now cut out for them. The rules for the Flip Event state that the boat must be completely upside-down when the time begins; to stop the clock all five rafters must then climb back aboard the righted ship and hold their paddles high. Just the right mix of technique (to deftly flip the boat) and power (to haul your buddies up by their PFD) is required and teams which have the advantage of observing their competitors’ mistakes typically score higher than those who take the first plunge. This played out mostly true, with the JRA1 Team winning the event in a blazing 12 seconds and Maligne sliding in one second slower. Perennial favourites JRT made a costly error when they lost a paddle downriver—the subsequent five second penalty helping land them in a tie for fifth with Wild Blue Yonder. JRA2, meanwhile, held on for a respectable sub-20 second third place.
Perhaps no event is a better test of a team’s river know-how than the Slalom Event, in which paddlers must negotiate a set of oars dangling from the Old Fort Bridge. This year, the gates were positioned directly over top of one of the strongest eddies on the ‘B, and even event organizer Eddie Wong admitted the buttonhook had to be even more delicate than usual. However, by the time they made the corner, teams were much more worried that the “jumper” they were assigned to rescue would land in their boat. The event’s sole rule change required the four person slalom team to come back with a fifth, but the fact that that person was plummeting into the water from the bridge above caused a couple of near-misses.
“There were no injuries, though,” Wong shrugged, knocking on whatever wood was available to him.
When the event was finished, Wild Blue Yonder proved the most capable of technical paddling, bringing in their soggy victim to shore in 1:15; Maligne followed close behind in their oar-powered boat; JRA1 put in a solid third place effort; while JRT may have fell victim to too much celebrating, posting a shaky 1:39. That said, at least they weren’t 200m downriver with JRA2, who scored a DNF. “I hang my head in shame,” said André Blanchette-Dubé. “Yaaaaaaaaaa,” shouted Foxy.
After the “Boat Race,” an indoor event that requires more fortitude of the liver than finesse on the river, Maligne Adventures were crowed the winners of the 2014 Raft Olympics and were bestowed with the Mark Oddy Golden Paddle, a trophy which commemorates one of Jasper’s fallen paddling heroes. Hungry participants gorged on gourmet lasagna provided by the ever capable Shirley’s Place, and The Jasper Legion was the setting for a bit of nostalgia as paddling veterans told war stories to wide-eyed river rookies. Long-time Raft Olympics judge and former river guide Art Jackson said Jasper should be proud of its unique event. Looking around the room at the cross section of people connected by the river, he said he’s always amazed at how the sport can bring people of all stripes together.
“Events like this aren’t held in other communities,” he said. “It’s a historical, creative event that really binds the paddling community.”