The boats were longer than the cars, the PFDs had minimal flotation and the helmets were sparkling with glitter. Ahh, those were the days. Oh wait, that was the scene last weekend at the Bit Air Bonanza on the White Salmon River.
Local kayaker and rafter Dave Hammond is known for his fascination with old-school, long boats. Every year he celebrates the long boat by hosting a different kind of whitewater rodeo.
Gathering in BZ Corner, the launch site for our White Salmon rafting trips, local kayakers find the longest boat they can and head down to Top Drop rapid.
The object: Get as much big air as possible by burying the bow or stern of your boat into the hydrolic.
The bigger the air, the higher the score.
You might wonder…Who is the judge? Answer: Everyone.
As each contestant paddles into the hole, the crowd waits for the outcome. The boat shoots into the air, nearly 12 feet of plastic out of the water. The crowd yells whatever score they deem reasonable. The scribe writes down whatever number they hear the most and averages the scores at the end. Pretty technical.
Wet Planet’s guides were talking about the event for days. Using Green Boats, Dagger’s 11’6″ creek boat, Tyler Houck, Curt Joyce and Drew Austell proudly lined up in the eddy for their round in the hole.
Curt set the bar high with big pirouettes and a sweet crowd-pleasing point. Tyler followed, getting in as many tricks as possible to increase his score. Other competitors joined in, using various longboats in shades of teal, magenta and neon yellow…just like the old school days.
At the last minute, Drew Austell arrived fresh off of a kayak instruction pool session, ready to get in a round.
You would think that it was planned to end with Drew’s big-air moves. His boat cleared the water on nearly every trick as shouts of “10” rang through the canyon, over and over again. He took first place, winning the largest can of black beans and a dragon statue from the BZ Corner store. Classy.
The event brought together raft guides and river staff from all the local outfitters. The community here celebrates the river in many ways, all agreeing that it is that which brings us together.