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Auburn River Festival stars emerging extreme sport

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The emerging sport of playboating is finding a home on the new run of manmade rapids in the American River canyon below Auburn. With gates closed until May for the road down to the China Bar rapids in the Auburn State Recreation Area, kayakers are strapping their small, light, plastic mini-boats onto bikes or their backs to walk to the rapids. The stretch opened last year and will be getting its first competitive test May 23 when local organizers put on the Auburn River Festival. Guy Cables, event organizer and a river boater for 30 years, said excitement has been growing for the China Bar run since the American River downstream was opened again to boating in January of last year. Playboat competition involves a paddler in a light, maneuverable “midget” kayak in a variety of moves that some compare to a watery version of snowboarding or skateboarding. Some of the more common moves include spins, flips and turns. The colorful kayaks and their pilots can go completely airborne at times. Cables said the event is being billed as a regional competition, with the possibility of getting bigger in future years and bringing in both national and international competitors. The rapids are just that good, he said. “A lot of world-famous boaters have already come in and posted positive comments,” Cables said. One – 15-year-old Jason Craig, the best in his age group in the nation – traveled from Reno, Nev. recently to make the hike into the canyon. “He said it was amazing,” Cables said. A world-class kayaker from Colorado judged the China Bar run better than any of the 15 manmade parks in his home state, Cables added. “Word is getting out that we have a first-class facility,” he said. As well as the one-day river festival, Cables is also working with the Auburn Outdoor Expo to put on a film festival May 16. Plans are to screen action-packed films on outdoor sports in conjunction with the expo. The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the School Park Preserve on Auburn’s High Street. River festival competition a week after the expo will include slalom races and a whitewater rodeo. There will also be a two-mile race along the American River from the Mountain Quarry Railroad Bridge to the Placer County Water Agency pump station. Cables said he’s particularly appreciative of water agency and state Parks Department support for holding the festival. Corey Tucker, a kayak instructor and member of the festival organizing team, said kayaking and playboating is catching on with families as a good parent-child activity. About 25 competitors and 100 spectators should be taking part in the event, he said. Future events could be more widely promoted and help grow the festival, he added. “I see 8-year-old kids slalom kayaking and they’re great,” Tucker said. “This festival has the potential to be big.” Karen Koons, director of sales and marketing for Auburn’s Holiday Inn, said her business is excited about the opportunities in the area for visitors to enjoy outdoor recreation and the festival will add to that. “The event is good for the visitor industry,” Koons said. “I think they should rename this area the year round recreational area of California.” Cables, co-owner of Sierra Outdoor Center, said the festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 23. There will be no charge to spectators while competitors will pay $30 and an extra $5 for insurance. Shuttle buses will drive participants from the China Bar parking lot off Maidu Drive to the festival. The Parks Department charges a $5 vehicle entry fee to China Bar. ---------------------------------- Auburn River Festival When: May 23 Where: China Bar rapids, Auburn State Recreation Area The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.