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Drove over to Vail to watch the semis and the finals of the Freestyle comp yesterday. Its always a fun comp to watch but yesterday was epic. The creek came up big during the prelims on Friday and turned the feature into a big flushy hole. The surprise of that round was Steven Wright not making the cut from 45 to 15. 16 year old phenom Jason Craig was in first.

Semis at 11 yesterday saw more very high water with the judging area starting to get flooded and the feature a difficult place to throw for 60 seconds without flushing. Big moves were required to advance but it was a battle for everyone. The finals 5 were some of the most technically sound boaters there. Advancing were BV's Dustin Urban, Casper Von ? from the Netherlands, Andrew Holcombe, Bryan Kirk and Jason Craig was in the lead after this round as well. World Champ Nick Troutman missed the cut finishing in 6th. All 5 finalists have had podium finishes at the Worlds and/or the World Cup.

Finals were at about 5 but by then the creek had turned into a river in flood. Gore Creek is a small tight Colorado trib running through Vail. 5, 6, maybe 700 cfs would be a typical runoff level. At the start of finals it was running at about 1500. It was dark brown with the surface full of wood and the feature was a huge chompy surging hole that none of the competitors had ever seen let alone practiced in. The judging area was flooded so they moved to the upstream bridge. Wood spotters were used to warn paddlers of the larger logs and stumps that were moving downstream. This wasn't just an annual high water event, this was flood stage. Paddlers were given one practice ride but that started the epic before anyone even got in the hole. Bryan Kirk was first to attempt to enter but as he ducked under the bridge on the way in his paddle caught on the bridge and was ripped from his hands. His practice ride consisted of face surfing the hole, hands rolling twice and disappearing downstream. A couple of his fellow competitors chased him downstream and rescued him. His adventure included hitting his second hands roll as he was swept into some trees and just avoiding a broach pin. When he showed up back at the hole his cheek was bleeding from some nasty scratches from his close encounter with the Colorado woods, while in his freaking boat.

I don't think anyone managed a full 60 seconds in the hole. It was cool to watch these great boaters figure out what could be done, find the edge and push it while competing. Big tricks were there but they were also catching an edge and flushing even as they set up and not just after the attempt. The judging area was now a pourover off the player's left shoulder and several times paddlers were caught in it and struggled to escape upright. The amount of wood coming down stream was intense. Brush, logs, whole trees were part of the comp. At one point an 18" stump with its whole 15' wide root system came through. Scary.

The finals format was best ride of 3 so it encouraged paddlers to go as big as possible. First round was mostly about figuring out the character of the beast, 3 decent tricks was a good ride. Dustin put up a 590 point ride to start the second round. It included 2 flushes with super quick recoveries and a visit to the pourover for a few precious seconds. It also included a huge clean Loop, Mcnastys both ways, an Air Wheel and I think a Blunt with a few Cartwheels etc. That was the score everyone took aim at and finally they were down to the last ride. In second was the Euro guy Casper with 350 points. It was fun to finally see him paddle after seeing his name at the top of a bunch of comp results. But, the last paddler was the future of Freestyle, Jason Craig. At 16, he's the Jr. World Champ with 2 more years of jr. eligibility. He's competing with the men this year. He's a great young guy. 6 years ago, at the Reno comp, Dustin taught him how to roll at a paddle with the pros event. How sweet to sit with his family and watch the 2 of them high 5 and cheer for each other. Jason threw down but flushed as well and "only" managed a 500 point ride. Second place and a huge smile were his. Dustin won the event for the 4th time.

Afterwards, the talk was of the unique and epic nature of the event. Seasoned pros, who are also world class creekers, spoke of how they would normally walk off a run with that much wood moving. Very cool event, glad I got to see it.

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