BoatSmith is a beloved whitewater festival and race held happens annually on the Smith River near Gasquet, CA. As a mid-February season opener to whitewater races, it’s a home-town throwdown competition and festival. It draws boaters from across the country and is the first in a series of annual AIRE Rapid Gran Prix competitions. 2022 delivered very bony flows at 950 cfs, compared to juicy 12-17k flows during the inaugural race in 2019. 2023 participants were relieved to see South Fork flows, where the Class II/III and Class IV+ races were held, in the 1700 cfs range- primo for the competition.
Smith River locals Aaron Babcock and Adam Spencer initially created the festival. However, it was soon discovered that more organizers, such as Christopher Sohl, Kaylan Wilson, Donna Peppin and Nicole Smedegaard, were needed. In 2023, approximately 50 people volunteered their time to make this event successful.
The Class IV+ race started from Craig’s Beach and entered the South Fork Gorge with an individual start every minute. Race starts were divided into boat categories starting with hardshell kayaks, followed by inflatable kayaks, Cat boats and finally, rafts. Top winners finished in the 14-15 minute timing range. One of the many highlights of the Class IV+ race, besides both catboat and raft carnage, was a proposal and engagement in the South Fork Gorge between two members of the safety boat team, post-race. As leads in the safety team year after year, the two lovebirds were given a stay at the beautiful Half Moon Bar Lodge on the Rogue River.
To participate in the Class IV+ competition, racers must qualify by listing the most recent Class IV+/V rapids and rivers that they have paddled successfully and in control with the past five years. They must also state that they have paddled the course in control at similar flows before race day. Registration closes at 9AM the day of the race.
The Class II/III race was a mass start hosting every type of water vessel imaginable - oars to paddleboard. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the mile-long course was the mass start constriction at Surprise Rapid (Class III+). Racers put in at a no-name location and finished at Craig’s Beach, a great spot to view the start of the Class IV+ race.
Not only is the Class II/III race an excellent way for novice and intermediate boaters to join in the fun, race day Safety Director Nicole Smedegaard hosted a pre-race two-day ACA paddle rafting/R2ing clinic through her river skills education company, Nature Nicole Whitewater LLC.
To see race day results check out the BoatSmith Facebook page