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Tenandeho Tough: Brave hearts hit white water in canoes, kayaks

Tenandeho Tough: Brave hearts hit white water in canoes, kayaks

'It's a rite of spring, it's a race, so it's competitive; you're getting your heart pumping a little bit'
Tenandeho Tough: Brave hearts hit white water in canoes, kayaks
Pat Lizok negotiates the rapids toward the finish of the 45th annual Tenandeho Whitewater Derby on Sunday.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Jordan Haskins moved his pinkish-purple kayak slowly down the bank of the Tenandeho Creek.

Haskins didn't need any tips about the chilly water, but he got one anyway. As soon as he pushed into the creek, his kayak tipped over.

"Better to get it out of the way early," yelled John Casey, standing on the bridge on Coons Crossing Road in Stillwater.

Latham resident Casey, a member of the Tenandeho Canoe Association and one of the organizers of Sunday's 45th annual Tenandeho White Water Derby, watched as other paddlers at Coons Crossing prepared for spring trips in winding waters that offered some calm -- and some chaotic -- sections.

White water challengers also had to contend with shallow stretches, thanks to a temperamental winter.

"It's extremely low," Casey said. "Compared to last year, the water is running right now at about 1 1/2 feet deep; last year it was 4 1/2 feet deep. With the snow melting slowly and the rain not coming ... the more wet, the higher the water."

The numbers of participants -- for one-man short kayaks, women's kayaks, one-man long kayaks, mixed men and women for open canoe, among others -- also was lower than in past years.

"Normally we have about 50 boats," Casey said. "This year we're in the 30s."

The low numbers and low temperatures -- thermometers were in the 30s as boaters geared up and in the 40s by the time races began at noon -- did not affect good moods.

"I'm over 100 races, but this is only the second time I've been out here," said Eric Jones, 47, of Granby, Connecticut. "This is our opening day for us, this is the first race of the season.

"It's super exciting, we've been in the off-season, we've been cooped up, not able to be on the river," Jones said. "But in terms of racing, this is our first race in six months."

"It's like opening day of baseball season," Jones added. "It means spring is here."

Jones and friend Amy Thornton, 31, of Florence, Massachusetts, were in it together. They challenged the Tenandeho in a red, 17-foot-long tandem canoe.

"Everybody is wicked jazzed about the race season starting," Thornton said. "It's the best thing you can possibly do, with the best people, it's so much fun."

Thornton was not worried about a toss into the Tenandeho. She was actually looking forward to a potential spring dip.

"There's a chance you can get tossed into the water," she said. "That's why we're out here, because it can happen. If not, it wouldn't be any fun."

Haskins, 33, who lives in Glens Falls, was glad for running water. He could even laugh after his close encounter with the creek.

"There's not much else flowing right now, it's early and the spring melt hasn't started yet," he said. "It's a way to get our paddling season started."

For some white water fans, the day was all about tradition. Tenandeho Canoe Association member John Erano, who gave all registrants a report on the creek and safety instructions and then started everyone off, has been part of the show since the mid-1970s. 

"It's just one of those passions you develop and you keep it going," he said.

Once started, kayaks and canoes moved along the creek and prepared to negotiate places with names like "Rock Garden," "Roadhouse Rapids" and "Downtown Rapids." Spectators parked cars and trucks along the creek route and cheered on favorites. More people gathered near the finish line in Mechanicville and shouted encouragement as men and women made their last moves.

Like Erano, kayakers Jim Underwood, 64, of Queensbury and Jim Ernst, 65, of Wilton, rode nostalgia waves.

"We date back to the old times when this was a big event, 1979," Underwood said. "I think everybody just kind of aged out. We're still doing it for nostalgia, at this point."

Ernst began his white water adventures in 1980.

"I just got caught up in it," he said. "It's a rite of spring, it's a race, so it's competitive. You're getting your heart pumping a little bit."

Ernst also said social opportunities are part of the spring day on the water.

"There's a bit of camaraderie, brotherhood, that comes with it," he said. "You see some people two or three times a year. Other people you'll go out and paddle with during the year."

Contact Gazette Reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected].  

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