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Saturday, November 13, 1999 -- Ohiopyle
Ohiopyle Falls Race
Story and photos by Marty Lamp

Practice Pics: [10-11am] [10-11am] [11-12pm] [11-12pm] [Practice/Race]
Race Pics: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5] [Set 6] [Set 7]
[Coverage] [Overall Results] [Results by Class]

Ohiopyle Falls Race
An unusual, but welcomed scene in Ohiopyle
Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania is no stranger to crowds of boaters and tourists, in fact, it has quite a reputation for just that. Every summer hundreds of thousands of people flock to the small "town" within Ohiopyle State Park to enjoy the Lower Youghiogheny's year-round water flow, or to lounge along the banks and watch boaters hone their skills. Many even come just to see Ohiopyle Falls, and on this day, it's safe to say most everyone came to see the falls.

For the first time in many decades, thanks to the efforts of AWA, many local boaters, Ohiopyle State Park, and the Ohiopyle Fire and Rescue Department, boaters would be allowed to run the 15 foot waterfall.

Ohiopyle Falls Race
Michael Burns during the practice runs
When news first spread that there was going to be an Ohiopyle Falls Race, it came with a few strings attached. The water level would have to be below 1.8 feet, which hasn't been a problem this year. The "status of the permits" kept things in limbo until a few days before the race. How many people will show up, and will the boaters "behave" themselves on the day of the event.

All these worries were quickly forgotten as 260 boaters registered, got their bib number, and headed over to the river for some fun. After the 7-9am registration, many more boaters tried to register, but were denied (including me). Hey, they said 9am, and they meant it!

Ohiopyle Falls Race
Brian Homberg wins the first one
The eddie above the falls started to fill up with multi-colored boats as everyone wanted to get in as many practice runs as they could on this one-day affair. Safety personnel were everywhere, throwbags in hand, enjoying the show, as they stood guard.

What might have surprised more than a few entrants were the rapids above the falls. The starting line for the race was the buoy line some 200 yards before the falls. Racers would encounter two distinct ledges; the first contained a u-shaped hydraulic. This 5 foot drop wouldn't appear too worrisome, but more than one person spent some time getting recirculated, in or out of their boat. This is where the majority of the throwbags were used on this day.

Ohiopyle Falls Race
You always feel safer with Charlie around
The second ledge was more about dropping it cleanly, without a piton into a rock in the shallow water below. A careful line here would make a big difference in time saved, and from here, it was about 75 yards to the big drop. Some racers stayed on river left, some quickly headed right to get lined up for the 6 foot wide green tongue that's the normal approach for the falls.

One of the unique aspects of running Ohiopyle Falls is the small wave/hole that lies at the bottom of the green tongue, and about 15 feet before the edge. This small wave added a little twist to more than one boater's line (ask Roger Zbel). The hotdogs were even catching a good surf here in practice and in the freestyle, before dropping the falls with little or no momentum. Once at the bottom, racers had a 100 foot sprint to the finish line.

Ohiopyle Falls Race
Mark Pavkovich making it look easy
The fastest person down the river this day was Brain Homberg(1:13.93). Homberg was cruising all the technical lines without a hitch, and after dropping the falls, he seemed to explode out of the froth below while never losing any momentum. Chris Iezzoni(1:18.50) wasn't smelling any roses along the way either as he finished less than 5 seconds behind Homberg for second place overall. Steve Kauffman(1:21.84) finished third overall. These top three finishers were all paddling wavehoppers.

The fastest female on the water was Kara Weld(1:33.02). Weld was paddling a long, glass, slalom boat (Phoenix Ocoee) as she seemed to never even get her head wet while dropping the falls and crankin' to the finish line. Weld finished an impressive 11th overall. Second place went to Colleen Laffey(1:39.61), who handled her wavehopper flawlessly. Laffey would finish 28th overall, while Karen Petit(2:08.81) finished third in the women's long boat division.

Ohiopyle Falls Race
Chuck Morris during the freestyle in Ohiopyle
In the freestyle competition, boaters didn't have a whole lot to work with, but it was exciting none-the-less. Rock spins, wavewheels, and and surfing the hole above the falls was the name of the game, but Todd DeVoe got the win after dropping the falls and being the only one to throw ends in the froth below. Clay Wright finished second, and Spencer Cooke finished third.

In the men's short boat division, Jim Werkman(1:35.03), proved to be the one to beat, and his time was good enough for 15th overall. Bruce Berman(1:37.31) and Jerry Lechowick(1:37.62) battled hard for second place with less than a 1/2 second between them.

The women's short boat class was won by Erica Ruppel(1:45.22). Less then three seconds separated Ruppel from Amy Dingle(1:47.91) and Chara Obrien(1:47.99) for the top three positions.

Ohiopyle Falls Race
No stranger to the Youghiogheny
Other winners include David Stockdill(1:56.12) for the Men's open canoe, and Felicia Mazur(2:15.48) for the Women's open canoe class. David Campbell(1:39.71) finished first for the men's C1-Long class, while Paul Consorte(1:40.70) was the fastest in the C1-Short class. The fastest inflatable was piloted by Dave Donley(1:54.15).

Many thanks go out to everyone involved in this great day, especially all the safety personnel, and to Ohiopyle State Park for giving it a chance. With a little luck, this race will happen every year, and you might be able to practice the course every day.