BANKS, Idaho — The best kayakers in the world have returned to our own backyard for an extreme kayaking race down the toughest rapid on the North Fork of the Payette River.
The North Fork Championship forces kayakers to navigate Jacob's Ladder and the Golf Course and on Thursday race organizers installed the gates that paddlers need to make to have a shot at winning the crown as the king and queen of the North Fork.
"The key is making sure you get some practice because with this race you can go in the same spot 16 times and have a different line every single time," said Dane Jackson who's unmistakable in his trademark pink kayak. "The more laps you do, the more you feel how the water can react at different times and you can react to make sure you are nailing the lines and making the gates."
Dane Jackson has won this race two times in a row, in total he has four victories including three of the last four races with a second place finish as well, he's considered the best kayaker in the world and he looks forward to NFC IX
"I'm back for one of my favorite weeks of the year this event is every thing you want in a kayaking event," said Jackson. "It has amazing weather, warm water, big whitewater, lots of spectators and good times I just love this week, I wouldn’t miss it for anything."
But this event has a stacked field of challengers including local paddlers Alec and Hayden Voorhees, their family took over organizing the race from James and Regan Byrd who created the North Fork Championship, Alec has raced in every single NFC, but has yet to win he finished second last year.
Other kayakers include Austrian Andi Brunner, Canadian Kalob Grady and American Jeremy Nash who busted on the scene last year as a young kayaker who finished third overall in this extreme kayaking race.
"If you just race this rapid it would already by one of the hardest if not the hardest race course you could think of for extreme kayaking and basically they have gates to make it more complicated," said professional kayaker Noria Newman of France. "For me it is really exciting to see the younger paddlers and they have very impressive skills.”
In the North Fork Championship the queen earns the same amount of prize money as the king and the women's division has grown substantially over the years with Sage Donnelly winning the crown last year.
Noria Newman raced in Idaho five years ago when there wasn't a women's division, she represented the ladies as the only female racer in the field but hasn't bee able to return because of travel, visa problems and Covid-19, but now she's back.
"It's definitely fun to be back at NFC and we have really good water levels right now I'm excited and scared," said Newman. "Of course you want to go fast but I feel like it's more about making it through safe and clean."
The rain last week brought the North Fork of the Payette almost to 5,000 cubic feet per second, but the river has dropped back down and should hover around 2,500 cfs for the race which makes for a medium level on this rowdy river.
The Voorhees family provides health insurance for all the racers, kayakers wait at the finish line to set safety for next competitor and other members of the safety team line the bank with ropes but every kayaker knows when they launch the Red Bull ramp they are out there alone in a very dangerous rapid.
"When it comes to Jake's it is actually no joke, this is a very serious section of whitewater," said Jackson. "It's very steep, very continuous and it goes non-stop so you want to make sure you are on your line, you are safe and you stay in your boat."
Caught the top professional kayakers practicing for the North Fork Championship. Dane Jackson made so many practice laps down Jacob's Ladder that we are able to show you the entire course. pic.twitter.com/zWPo1O4hBo— Steve Dent (@idahodent) June 16, 2022
The NFC Film Fest happens Thursday night starting at 5:30 at Payette Brewery where they will announce the ten men and two women wildcards who raced in the qualifier earlier in the day.
Friday features a boater cross down S-Turn Rapid at noon with the party moving to Crouch in the evening before the main event on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
Race organizers urge people who want to attend to car pool, there is no parking on the south side of Highway 55 and camping this year will be at the rodeo grounds in Crouch costing $40 for the weekend.
If you can't make it to the North Fork Championship the event will be streamed at the Hammer Factor for the second year in a row, people can purchase that for $35 and I ordered it last year which helps provide insight into this extreme race with some crazy drone action as well.