My first solo kayak race was actually not on my local river. Paddling buddy Konrad told me about another race on the Tye River in Nelson County, VA which is about an hour away and I went with him the first Saturday in May, 2009 not knowing what to expect.
I paddled my Old Towne Loon kayak and I felt an old mix of excitement and nervousness at the starting line. (Since this race I’ve seen true paddlers actually throw up just before a race due to nerves, and I suspect that even recreational paddlers who do not intend to compete whatsoever feel a little twinge of nerves when they line up at a starting line.) I had that same feeling in my stomach and I really had no idea why. Sure, I was there to race, but I wasn’t really a serious racer with any hope of actually posting a good time.
The Tye River is a beautiful river and the race section is mostly isolated from civilization except for a few homes, farms and camps. It has the feel of a true mountain stream with several sets of challenging Class II-III rapids. Nothing life-threatening for a novice, but just enough to have to take it seriously and make good decisions.
I paddled as fast as I could that day and tried to read the river and pick the best lines and felt a sense of accomplishment as I crossed the finish line.
I came in second in a class of 2 so I walked away with a somewhat meaningless medal, but when I looked at the top times in the overall race across categories, I had actually posted a respectable time which surprised me.
Unfortunately, my time was about 15 minutes faster than Konrad’s and I didn’t feel so good knowing I had posted a better time than the guy who introduced me to the race. He was gracious, though, and very encouraging.
It was this race where I started to notice a few things. #1, the older paddlers actually seemed to do better than the young bucks and, #2 the winners seemed to have long, ocean kayaks. It was just an observation at this point, but I was slowly starting to figure a few things out.