NORTHFIELD — Whitewater paddling enthusiasts from throughout New England and as far away as Ontario, Canada, came to the Lakes Region this weekend to pit their skills against the Winnipesaukee River.
Organized by Sonny Hunt of Webster, and his daughter, Amy, of Dover, the Winni Slalom race is now in its seventh year. This year’s race attracted 68 competitors ranging in age from 5 to 78.
Whitewater slalom racing combines precise boat handling skills with speed. Paddlers are timed racing through a series of gate — wooden poles dangling from wires stretched above the river which include both downstream (with the current) and upstream (against the current) gates.
This year’s 23-gate course stretched over about a quarter-mile section of the river where it closely parallels East Main Street.
Penalties were assessed in the form of time faults — seconds added for every pole touched or gate missed — with the fastest time being declared the winner. There were a variety of categories for canoes, both open and closed, kayaks, as well as men and women, combined, solo and tandem boats.
Many paddlers towed travel trailers to the event or pitched their tents riverside on conservation land at the end of Granite Street.
Isaac Fellows, 10, of Hanover, made several trips down the roaring river both in a single kayak and then in a double kayak with fellow paddler Klaus Renner of Hollis.
Isaac has been racing since he was 4 years old, according to his mother, Abigail, who was among those competing on Sunday.
“It’s fun. You have to work hard,” Isaac said of what he likes about the sport. “You’re working with other people and you get to meet new people,” he added.
Sonny Hunt said the camaraderie among fellow paddlers is strong and keeps people coming back.
“We all enjoy getting to see each other 10 to 12 times a year,” Hunt said.
Fellow paddlers travel to the New England Slalom Series races that start in April in Connecticut and then make stops in New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and New York. Hunt said the local race wouldn’t be possible without the cooperation of the state, which permits a dam release increasing the flow of water in the Winnipesaukee River.
On Saturday the river was running at 1,600 cubic feet per second, but had slowed to 1,200 cubic feet per second on Sunday. Hunt is no stranger to race organization. He and his daughter have been putting on the Blackwater Race in nearby Webster for the past 37 years.