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Monday, September 24, 2007 -- Summersville, WV / Summersville Dam
The ANIMAL Upper Gauley Race (iPO Event Id#: 10395) --- Official Website:

2007: [Photos] [Details] [Coverage] [Overall Results]

Coverage: [1998] [1999] [2000] [2001] [2004] [2005] [2006]

Calhoun Returns to Reclaim Title

Gauley Race-Photo by J.R. Petsko
Gauley Race-Photo by J.R. Petsko
Story and photos by JR Petsko

September 2007 marked the 15th year for the event known as the ANIMAL. It all started in 1992 as a friendly competition. Soon, the event was viewed as a great way to highlight the Gauley River, its beautiful surrounding area, and local merchants. The downriver sprint on a legendary section of river, five Class V rapids, has become one of the premier extreme events in the country.

Competitors range from World Champion rodeo boaters, to U.S. Wildwater Team members, professional whitewater videographers, river professionals on raft teams, and non-sponsored recreational boaters.

Every year, the event has seen an expansion in racer craft, competing in kayaks, rafts, shredders, duckies (inflatable kayaks), riverboards, and unusual looking rafts known as the G-4 CreatureCraft.

"The reunion style camaraderie every year is certainly one of the biggest highlights of Gauley Season." said race director, Donnie Hudspeth. This year was no exception.

Gauley Race-Photo by J.R. Petsko
Gauley Race-Photo by J.R. Petsko
"Over the years the race has been a huge success with more than 100 competitors annually coming from all over the continental United States, Canada, Japan and Europe." Hudspeth explained. "Race classes include: wildwater, wavehopper, slalom, playboat, duckie, six-person raft teams, R2, shredder, open canoe single and tandem, CreatureCraft, river board, striders, and others."

This was not my first year covering the mother of all downriver races and I was aware of all the excitement that I was in store for. Just like in 2006, I hiked down the steep trail to Pillow Rock Rapid from the mountain side above. Four hundred vertical feet later I arrived at one of the better rapids on the river to view the race.

As I got my camera ready for the paddlers to make their way down river, I was in disbelief of the beautiful day that we were having on a late September afternoon. Warm temperatures and sunny skies ruled the day. I was not the only one who hiked down the mountain side to view the race. More than 50 people made the trip down the unforgiving Pillow Rock Trail.

Gauley Race-Photo by J.R. Petsko
Gauley Race-Photo by J.R. Petsko
The first boater with a bib to paddle in sight was 2005 ANIMAL winner, Geoff Calhoun. Chris Hipgrave followed him. Calhoun and Hipgrave are well known throughout the whitewater community. Hipgrave has been a Wildwater athlete for a long time, having competed on numerous national teams he has raced in World Championships and World Cups across the globe. He has also paddled for the Nantahala Racing Club for many years.

Calhoun is only 21, but is one of the country's top wildwater racers. At last year's Animal Upper Gauley Race Calhoun was home in Bethesda, Maryland, unable to defend his 2005 title because of a serious shoulder injury. This year he was back in form was looking to reclaim his title.

As the two paddlers pasted by me there was less than 5-seconds between the two of them. Unlike the year before when racers had pretty big gaps between them, this year's race was extremely close in every class. As wave after wave of boater passed by, it was like a train of boats coming down river. No one wanted to lose ground on the paddler ahead of him (or her).

Gauley Race-Photo by J.R. Petsko
Gauley Race-Photo by J.R. Petsko
There was no way I could make it to the finish in time to see what happened, but I was sure it was down to the wire and action packed for the spectators waiting on the rocks at Sweets Falls.

Calhoun regained his title as champion of the ANIMAL, edging out Hipgrave by just over a minute with a time of 46:46. Hipgrave finished 2nd in 47:48. Jared Seiler took the win in the Wavehopper/Speeder class finishing in 52:05, just barely holding off Jeremy Laucks in second who finished in 52:16. Mark Hamilton took the win in the K1 Slalom class finishing in 51:50 over 2006 class winner Bryan Kirk who finished in 52:29.

Thanks to all the sponsors who make this race possible year after year.

"What a great field of racers we had... kayaks, C1's, K2's, rafts, shredders, river boards, duckies.... All out for a great Gauley celebration! Thanks a lot for coming out, thanks to Enel for your support and the Rivermen for an awesome dinner and party! We will see you all next year." said Donnie.