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The Best Paddling Festival in the North

The Best Paddling Festival in the North

The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge Festival

It was so great to be back paddling in the Timmins Great Canadian Kayak Challenge. It’s the event’s seventh year and it has become one of the best paddling festivals in North America. And the best part – it’s in Northeastern Ontario.

I participate in over thirty paddling shows per season – but most are based in the south. That’s why the chance of speaking about the north, while in the north, is such an amazing experience for me.

kayak race 3

I gave a couple of workshops on “How to be a Happy Camper” and raced in the celebrity challenge with local radio hosts, business people, politicians, and the mayor of Timmins – a great group of northern paddlers. By some miracle (and a fast Necky kayak I borrowed from a friend) I came in third. Rick Isaacson of Howling Wolf Expeditions outfitters came in first. Number 46 had me working up a full sweat at the end. I was ahead of him until the turn. Then, the entire way back, he had me by a few metres. I couldn't catch up to him. All the time he kept a good rhythm, listening to his iPod through his headset. At the finish line I asked him what music he had chosen to inspire him. I expected something like ABBA or Elton John’s greatest hits. His paddling strokes were so mellow and controlled. Nope. He listened to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” to get him to the finish line.

kayak race 1

The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge brings in about 15,000 people and over 100 kayakers compete in the races that go on throughout the weekend. There’s a series of competitions for seniors, kids, and elite contenders held on the historic Mattagami River. A festival regular, Richard Demers of Timmins, won the 6.5-km Open Challenge for the fourth year in a row. Dan Mallett of Chelsea, Quebec, came in a very close second. Richard’s daughter, Jessica, won the women’s 6.5-km Open Challenge and the 16-km Recreational Elite Race. Racers from southern Ontario and the United States also competed and won several races.

The festival is more than just kayak racing, however. There are countless vendors, great food, Aboriginal dancing, children’s activities, a giant rubber duck race, a beer tent, evening fireworks, and great musical acts like Canucky Bluegrass Boys and Scarlett Jane. My music picks for the weekend, however, were The Box and Platinum Blonde. Yes, I’m dating myself.

Make sure you plan on taking part in the Great Canadian Kayak Challenge next year. You won’t be disappointed.

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