Power Paddle

Power Paddle

            On Saturday morning at 10am, under sheets of rain, they sat waiting for the gunshot. The solo canoeists (known as C1), steadied their boats in the chop. The shot rang out, barely audible over the wind and rain meeting the lake; the racers plunged their paddles in and dug, propelling themselves forward. They paddled hard, into the wind, to round an island a half-mile off. They turned back then, paddling an additional mile in open water, to a sandy inlet atop Croton Dam. Volunteer boats were in the water; the volunteers could be seen, arms up, squinting at the racers, rain jackets covering their heads, towels wrapped around their bodies. When the occasional (and seemingly inevitable, given the conditions) canoe would flip, the boats would rush to them, and help them right their canoe before continuing forward.

            When the racers reached the inlet, it was a mad dash out of the water. Grabbing the thin, streamlined canoes, and throwing them up to their shoulders or heads, the racers portaged at full running speed the quarter mile to the top of the Muskegon River before dropping in again. Working now with the current, the paddlers disappeared almost immediately into the trees, around the first bend in the river.

            Exactly one hour and forty minutes and 13.5 miles from the gunshot, the first C1 boat crossed the finish line into Henning Park, powered by Mike Davis. He was met by the cheers of dripping wet, yet enthusiastic onlookers, and congratulated with beer by Newaygo Brewing. Pete Mead and Danny Medina came in quickly after, winning 2nd and 3rd, and with a time of one hour, forty six minutes, Rebecca Davis won the women’s division.

            So what is this event, the one that coaxes participants, spectators, and small businesses out into the early morning rain? Brought to you by local Newaygo Nationals Association and the Michigan Canoe Racing Association (“M.C.R.A”) is Power Paddle!: an annual weekend event that has been going on for over a decade, attracting canoeists from across Michigan and beyond. The race always begins in Croton, just atop Croton Dam, and consists of 1.5 miles of open water paddling in the lake, followed by 12 miles of down-stream river paddling. Friday morning begins the C1 (solo canoe) race, and is followed by Sunday’s C2  (2 person canoe) event.

            On Sunday the C2 racers made the same journey, this time with men’s, women’s, mixed, and youth divisions. The thin boats sliced through the water, the racer in back calling out directions to the front, each working in synch to turn, alter course, speed up, slow down. The weather was kinder and the rain held, but a cool breeze kept up the chop on the lake, and several boats tipped, sometimes multiple times, before crossing the finish line. Many of the racers competed in both the C1 and C2 races, and on Sunday Wes Dean and Pete Mead, with a time of one hour and thirty five minutes, took first. Rebecca Davis and her partner, Roxanne Barton, won the women’s division with a time of one hour forty-four minutes, and the mixed boat powered by Hailey Halstead and Jordan Wakeley finished in one hour forty minutes. The only competing youth, Natalie Kellogg, competed for the first time racing solo, and also crossed the finish line to the enthusiastic cheers of spectators and the racers before her.

            It was a festive scene in Henning Park once the racers finished. Canoes were scattered around the boat launch, families were gathered. The racers, some with calves and back muscles seizing with fatigue, helped one another drag their boats to the launch and hobble happily into the park. Lunch was provided for the racers and their families by River Stop Cafe of downtown Newaygo, and a celebratory beer was again awarded to those racers 21 and up.

            While I am not a racer myself, the neighborly and amiable support of the racing community was so apparent, it made me (almost) want to become one. Whether you are an amateur canoeist, or just a social member of the community, put Power Paddle on your calendar for next summer.  You can join in the fun as a competitor, spectator, or join in the community and volunteer. We have many things to be thankful for in River Country, but the abundance of community-supported events, brought together volunteers and local businesses, certainly tops my list.

To get involved, or for more information on Power Paddle or any other events put on by Newaygo Nationals, visit newaygonationals.com

By Carmen Faulkner

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About The Author

Carmen Faulkner

Carmen Faulkner is an avid travel enthusiast who grew up in Newaygo County. When she isn’t on the road, she splits her time between her home in Newaygo and the mountains of British Columbia. Her love for all things outdoors is paralleled only to her appreciation of food, coffee, and craft beer. You can find her in our community kayaking down the Muskegon River, hiking the North Country Trail, or enjoying the small businesses of downtown Newaygo.