Adding SUP events to the roster at whitewater festivals has been like putting the hawk-eye line challenge to use at Wimbledon. The sport is steeped in tradition and can prove stubborn to fuse modern relevancy with classic elements. Fibark, however, which dubs itself as “America’s Oldest and Boldest Whitewater Festival,” has managed this challenge with exceptional grace in its 68th year of existence. With the debut of the “Colorado SUP Championships” in 2016, Fibark has cemented paddleboarding as an integral component to the classic events that make the festival an icon of Colorado whitewater culture.
This year, athletes from around the world added the Colorado SUP Championships in Salida, Colorado to their whitewater race schedule. The event took place on the weekend after the internationally attended Go Pro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado. Just a 2-hour drive from Vail, Fibark was a natural addition to most competitors’ itinerary, especially since many had driven thousands of miles or flown in from countries as distant as Japan. The back-to-back events enabled travelers to string together two races with world-class competition in less than two-weeks.
ULI paddlers, Eric and Rebecca Giddens, were among those that migrated to both competitions from their hometown of Kernville, California – a 2000-mile round-trip. After impressive performances at the Payette River Games in 2015, the Kern River
Festival, and Go Pro Games in 2016, the Giddens were likely whale-sized blips on the radar of the Colorado locals and international athletes at Fibark.
Rebecca’s reign of 1rst place overall titles was challenged by serious competition in the women’s division. Cami Swan, who had edged out Giddens for individual victories at the Go Pro Games, was in attendance along with reputable paddlers such as Natali Zollinger and Nadia Almuti. If Rebecca was feeling any pressure though, she left it on dry land. She kept her string of overall titles alive with 1rst place victories in the SUP Cross and Downriver Events. Natali Zollinger and Nadia Almuti filled in the podium behind her.
Eric Giddens had a score to settle after his experiences at the Go Pro Mountain Games. Eric and Luke Hopkins were involved in the most controversial and contested moment of the event while battling for the final podium position of the SUP Cross. Hopkins was given the nod. At the Colorado SUP Championships, however, Luke was not in attendance and the rematch potential ensues. By taking 1st place in the SUP Cross and 4th in the downriver events, however, Eric was able to claim the podium position he was denied the week before at the Go Pro Games. His performance earned him 3rd overall with whitewater veteran Mike Tavares taking first, and Colorado local, Spencer Lacey, earning second.
Eric and Rebecca were both paddling the same 11-foot ULI Zettian Multisport inflatables that they’ve used in previous events.
Article by Ian Michal Smith.
A huge thanks to Deb Stipa of @debsactionphoto for providing amazing photography!