Salida’s FIBArk whitewater festivals innovates

Salida's FIBArk boat races remain among the nation's largest and most admired. Photo/Allen Best

Salida’s FIBArk boat races remain among the nation’s largest and most admired. Photo/Allen Best

FIBArk innovates, Arkansas River modified, and Salida transitions

SALIDA, Colo. – FIBArk, which calls itself America’s oldest and boldest whitewater festival, was held in mid-June in the central-Colorado river town of Salida. The festival name consists of the acronym, first in boating, as well as the short-hand name for the river: the Arkansas.

It was launched in 1949 as a contest to see who among the 23 entrants could boat the runoff-swollen Arkansas from Salida through the frothy, sharp-edged Royal Gorge. Just two entrants, both from Switzerland, completed the 50-mile journey.

Since then, much has changed. FIBArk has grown to include 10 different river events, including one to test the retrieving abilities of dogs in water. There are also land events, including a parade.  It calls itself America’s  oldest and boldest whitewater festival.

Equipment and skills have changed. In 2004, a Salida boater named Brad Goettemoeller explained the changes in kayaks and competition for Colorado Central Magazine. Despite increasing competition from other whitewater festivals, he noted, FIBArk at that time was still rated No. 2 among the nation’s boating festivals by Kayak Magazine.

Just a guess: stand-up surfers didn't exist when FIBArk began in 1948. Another guess: this wave didn't exist either. Photo/Allen Best

Stand-up surfers probably play in the waters of the Arkansas River when FIBArk began in 1949. Another guess: this wave didn’t exist either. Photo/Allen Best

The river has changed, too. It has more water, courtesy of diversions from the Aspen area delivered via tunnels from under the Continental Divide.

The bed of the river has also been altered. In 1966, a bulldozer pushed boulders around to create a more difficult slalom course. In 1988, more tinkering yielded a kayak playhole near downtown Salida. There is also a standing wave used to much merriment by stand-up surfers and stand-up paddleboarders.

Small and cute in Salida.

Small and cute in Salida.

A railroad town, streets were predicated not on an east-west grid, but instead a perpendicular layout from the depot. The depot is gone now, and trains stopped running over the transcontinental route through Salida, Leadville, and Avon in 1997.

Instead, like so many of the old mining towns of the Rockies, Salida is a place for Tevas, GoPro, and Patagonia. You might be able to buy steel-toed work boots at the Wal-Mart, but don’t count on it. This is no longer a blue-collar town. If you like organic food, it’s a good place to be.


Boaters want a wave

in Columbia River

REVELSTOKE, Alberta – A group of whitewater enthusiasts hopes to build a wave park in the Columbia River as it passes through Revelstoke.

“Whether they’re stand-up surfers, stand-up paddleboarders, or whitewater kayakers, they all want the same thing,” said Brendan Ginter, president of the Revelstoke Community Wave Park Society. “They all want a big wave they can surf on that’s predictable, and they don’t have to go in the ocean to do so.”

The Revelstoke Times Review explains that the enthusiasts hope to modify the river bottom with rocks, concrete, or other hard surfaces in a way to create a standing wave.

“There are hundreds of these things throughout the world, now,” said Ginter. “People started making modifications to rivers, or doing man-made rivers for kayaking purposes, in the ‘60s, mostly for slalom kayaking.”

He sees the need for three permits and $500,000 to get the job done. He hopes to secure both within a year.


About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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  1. Pingback: Allen Best on the evolution of FIBArk | Coyote Gulch

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