Did you know that Idaho has over 100,000 miles of river flowing through it? Naturally, our unique rivers have become an attraction for international rafters and kayakers. The North Fork Championships is a 3-day international competition about whitewater kayaking in Idaho’s treasured Payette River.
These rapids are distinct to Idaho and allow competitors to showcase their daring skills. The North Fork Championships is an annual event just north of Idaho’s rafting hub, Banks, Idaho. Starting on Thursday, June 17, you can see these dangerous but exhilarating competitors take on the roaring spring waters of the Payette for yourself.
This year, on June 17, 18, and 19, over 100 kayakers gathered at the Mile-Post 90 on Hwy 55. The side of the highway was filled with camper vans and other adventure vehicles from around the USA - all accompanied by brightly colored kayaks. It was hard to miss. Although traveling internationally is still hard to come by due to COVID-19, there were still competitors from England, Peru, and various parts of South America. Each kayaker, men and women, was there to compete in Idaho’s unmatched whitewater.
On the first morning of the competition, all competitors gathered for a safety meeting. This tight-knit community of kayakers look out for each other. Each competitor knows the danger of Idaho’s extreme rivers. To ensure everyone’s safety, not only does the NFC have its own in-the-water response team, but they also require competitors to stay in their kayak waiting until the next competitor completes their ride. That way, there is always an extra set of hands there to help if something goes awry. Knowing the dangers and challenges of the course, NFC also carries insurance for each competitor during the event. If an incident was to happen, the financial burden of medical costs are covered by NFC’s event insurance.
The first day consisted of a qualifier event down the Payette River and the NFC Film Fest at Payette Brewing. The banks of the Payette were lined with friends and family of the competitors, spectators, and other kayakers supporting their fellow athletes. After more than 100 kayakers complete the qualifying round, everyone headed to Boise for a film festival and kick-off party!
The next day consisted of the North Face Boater XRace where 5 to 6 kayakers go head-to-head down the river! Battling out in the S-turn of the Payette, these competitors navigate the rapids strategically. They leveraged the natural propulsion of the whitewater to map-out out their “line” and launch into the lead.
The final day, Saturday, June 19th, was the main event. Although people came from around the world to experience all of the Payette, they are really focused on one stretch of river - Jacob’s Ladder. Not only is this world-renowned part of the Payette a class V rapid, but a difficult “obstacle” course accompanies it that competitors must complete. The best kayakers in the world launched off a Red Bull Ramp into Jacob’s Ladder into the Golf Course Rapids to compete for the title of World Champion. This course is so complex and dangerous that many experienced kayakers do not attempt to run this stretch of the river.
After the event is over, all competitors and spectators celebrate the weekend in the neighboring town of Crouch, Idaho. Some paddle, but many drive to Weilmunster Park, where there is live music, dancing, and drinks!
If you have ventured up the Payette River in June or July, you may have noticed many whitewater enthusiasts floating down the Payette. From McCall to Horseshoe Bend, Banks to Stanley, Idaho, hundreds of whitewater destinations bring people from across the globe. Kayaking the Payette has become a staple in Idaho worth celebrating!