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2003 Canoe/Kayak Racing Season Preview

By Marsh Jones
April 10, 2003


The ice is off the water in the southern half of the state, and the temperatures are beginning to go from blue to klister. (Almost) everyone has put the skis away, pulled the bikes off the wall and the boats off the hooks. Aside from the 'pure paddlers' who made the trip to Inverness, Florida for the Gene Jensen winter camp, most of us are still trying to shake off the winter and get paddling muscles loosened up. Paddlers are suffering from the winter's lack of snow (and now rain) this spring, with low water levels in most of the rivers.

Paddling makes a great summertime activity for skiers. Low impact, good upper body work, and it's outside! It's also a sport ideally suited for the average ski racer's body type.

Rookie Night is a great opportunity to try paddling. This program has been going on for nearly 30 years, meeting down below University Hospital on the east bank. (Mississippi Flats) at 5:30. This is a great way for skiers (and others) to learn to paddle efficiently, plus find out about canoe racing in a very low-key outing. Bring appropriate clothes (ski clothes work well this time of year), waterproof shoes or boots, a life jacket (PFD) if you have one. We'll provide the rest. Hard core paddling experience isn't required - in fact it is probably easier to teach someone who didn't grow up paddling 'Canadian style' using 'J' and 'C' steering strokes all the time. We pair up a newcomer with an experienced paddler, cover the basics on dry land, and then hit the water as a group. We normally try to be on the water at 6:00, and off by a little before 8:00. The pace is fairly relaxed, and should be fine for anyone reasonably fit - it isn't necessary to be in 'racing shape' to enjoy. In addition to basic paddling skills, the Monday night sessions cover wake riding (like drafting), racing tactics, and etiquette. Other group training paddles take place almost every day from now on, with semi-scheduled paddles on Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends (unless there is a race). Most of these training runs will stay in groups by speed and ability, with faster boats circling back to pick up the slower ones.

The Minnesota racing season kicks off on May 3 with the annual Snake River Canoe Classic (or Knife Lake, depending on water levels). This is the biggest individual race in Minnesota, drawing large numbers of recreational paddlers both from Mora and the rest of the state. In addition to being the first event of the year, Mora always does a fine job with the course and feeding the competitors afterwards. Other favorites are the weekly Hoigaards Canoe Derby (Thursdays thru mid-August), Klarbrunn Classic in St. Cloud (May 31), the Chippewa Triathlon (June 7), the re-born Marine-on-St. Croix (June 21) and the Jensen Handicap (June 22). Two other races of particular note are the Four-State Challenge, held on the Wisconsin River (July 13), and the Mississippi Classic (August 17). The Classic has been held for 30+ years, drawing professional and amateur paddlers from all over the US and Canada. The Challenge is a unique event. Paddlers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois form state teams, with the intent to take as many points as possible in each competitive class from the 22 mile tandem and solo races to the 16 mile adult-child, junior, kayak and recreation categories. Last year came down to a tie between Minnesota and Wisconsin, with both states vowing to snatch the title outright next time.

Todd Elison, Joe Manns, and Fred Rayman continue to be Minnesota favorites, along with Calvin Hassel (NE), John Hugas, and Al Limberg (WI) for any race they team on, with Kjell Peterson, Brett and Devan Arenz being the best 'up&coming' paddlers (and podium regulars). Also look for Al Rudquist's name on the 1st place check on any race he enters, with whomever he paddles. Al is better known in places like Shawinigan, Quebec and Grayling, MI due to his consistent top finishes at the 'Triple Crown' of canoe racing rather than outside the paddler's community on the local level. On the women's side, Deighen Blakely, Stephanie Larson, Josie Nelson (MN) and Beth Schluter (WI) are the threats in any race.

As a closing footnote, the term 'HUT!' is now used universally as the command to switch paddling sides. This was started in the 1940's by the legendary Gene Jensen (who designed most of the racing canoes in use today). Gene found that it was a lot easier to bark 'HUT!' than to say 'switch sides'. While Gene no longer competes due to health problems, we enjoy his presence at many races thru the season.

About the author...

Marsh Jones is a 'forty-something, multi-sport, weekend warrior' to use his description. His best finish last year was 25th at the Chippewa Triathlon. In addition to skiing and canoeing, Marsh generally gets involved in whatever sports his 11&13 year olds are doing (currently lacrosse). Marsh races for Ketter Canoeing and ActiveElite.

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