Crowds cheer creek thrill-seekers

Applause echoed through the normally quiet city streets on Sunday afternoon as more than 1,000 peopl
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Applause echoed through the normally quiet city streets on Sunday afternoon as more than 1,000 people lined the Tenandeho Creek to cheer on canoes, kayaks and even an inflatable duck.

Residents from across the Capital Region turned out en masse to watch the 35th annual Tenandeho White Water Derby.

A total of 49 canoes and kayaks entered this year’s race. Sam Carabis, who helped organize the event and is also the city’s assistant building inspector, said this year’s

estimated attendance was the most he’s seen in the last 20 years of the event.

“We’re probably one of the last races in the area that continues on,” he said. “It brings people into the community and . . . [they] have a chance to look at our fair city.”

The largest class this year was the one-person kayak, with 28 competitors. The winner, 27-year-old Glenville native Jason Baniak, finished 58 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor.

“I’m starting to get more familiar with the course I guess,” he said. “I made a few less mistakes.”

The second-place finisher, Jeff Kelly, said he has won the one-person kayak class seven of the last nine years. The only two people to beat him were Baniak and his brother, Robert.

“Now I’ve got to try harder. I don’t like these young guys coming around,” Kelly joked. “He’s an engineer, so he can figure the angles out. I don’t have that kind of gift.”

Ed Fisher watched the race with some family members near the creek. Although he now lives in Troy, he said he went to high school in Mechanicville. This is the first year he has come to the race, he said.

“It’s definitely a family thing,” Fisher said. “It’s a town thing.”

The 4.5-mile race starts in the Tenandeho Creek in Stillwater at Coons Crossing near Route 67 and finishes near the old elementary school just short of the Hudson River in Mechanicville.

Racers start at one-minute intervals and each watercraft is timed from start to finish. It took Baniak 37 minutes and 44 seconds to finish the course.

The Tenandeho Canoe Association sponsors the event. The small volunteer group was recently out clearing woods and brush from the creek to prepare for the race. Organizers said this year’s water level of between 2 and 21⁄2 feet was perfect.

There were also three entries in the “anything that floats” shorter race sponsored by the city. The quarter-mile race goes from DiSiena Furniture to the Hudson River.

Organizer Larry Marinello announced that this year’s winner, based on style, sturdiness and effort, was a raft made to look like a beer delivery truck.

“It was pretty authentic,” he said. “It was a little different. It held up a little better, too.”

The other two entries were the General Lee from the TV show the “Dukes of Hazzard” and a large inflatable duck.

One racer that stood out was Scott Stepenuck, the only racer to go down the creek by canoe poling. Canoe polers stand upright on the boat and use a 12-foot pole to steer the canoe.

As he approached the rapids at the end of the course, he paused for about 30 seconds while he considered the best way to navigate the rushing water.

“Right where the bottom of the canoe curls up to the sides, you stand right there,” Stepenuck said. “The canoe is actually a very stable craft if you stand on it properly.”

Stepenuck lives in Ballston Spa and has been racing in the derby since the mid-’90s.

In the two-person canoe class, Ray Kurmenacker, 46, competed with his 9-year-old son, Keel.

“You’re really on the edge of your seat, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Keel said. “It’s a family sport, like, I can always have someone that I know that I can hang out with.”

This was the second year that Kurmenacker raced in the derby with his son.

“We had a clean run,” Kurmenacker said. “In this sport, speed is your friend. The faster your boat is going, the more stable it is.”

On Sunday, off duty Mechanicville police officer Steve Barton was volunteering with NorthEast Mobile Search and Rescue. He said that one woman who had an accident in a kayak was taken by ambulance to Albany Medical Center.

Barton didn’t have any information on the nature of her injuries, but he did say they were minor.

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