Down the chute at Paddlefest

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There were kayakers flipping, spinning and shooting down chutes, and paddlers jousting on standup paddleboards over August long weekend on the Slave River.

Paddlers hit the water at this year’s Slave River Paddlefest, held over August long weekend near Fort Smith.
photo courtesy of Leif Anderson

Just under 150 people registered for this year’s Slave River Paddlefest, held over August long weekend, and that doesn’t include onlookers or the odd kid who ran in.

“Paddlefest is for everyone and really geared towards families,” said Natalie Anderson, the lead organizer for the Fort Smith event.

“A lot of the activities are appropriate for people who’ve never done anything in the water.”

She said the event went smoothly and members of the crowd were from as far away as Britain and Australia.

“We had a couple local kids who just fired up the wave train all day, two days in a row,” said Anderson. “I don’t think I ever saw them out of the water. They were like getting on these paddleboards with three kids on a board and they were just doing lap after lap after lap. That’s cool to see.”

Anderson said there were some changes to this year’s event, including an evening called River Night that was held in honour of Jacques van Pelt, an environmentalist, outfitter and longtime Northerner who died last fall.

“We also talked about conservation issues on the river, giving a platform to the Pelican Advisory Circle and Smith’s Landing,” said Anderson.

“We showed some of Jacques van Pelt’s old rafting films from when he did rafting tourism on the Slave River.”

Paddlers ride the waves at the Slave River Paddlefest near Fort Smith over August long weekend.
photo courtesy of Slave River Paddlefest

Low water levels at the beginning of the summer had risen to normal levels by the time of the festival and a stormy forecast broke for a weekend of nice weather.

Anderson said many who showed up to watch wished at the end that they’d registered. The festival offers clinics and workshops as well for paddlers to build up their skills.

Next year’s Paddlefest is scheduled for July 31 to Aug. 3, 2020.

“Don’t be scared,” said Anderson. “Just check it out – it’s worth it to check it out.”

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