Local paddleboarder shows off skills at Yampa River Fest | SteamboatToday.com

Local paddleboarder shows off skills at Yampa River Fest

Austin Colbert

Rafters go overboard as they try to tackle Charlie's Hole during the 35th annual Yampa River Festival on Saturday in Steamboat Springs.

— Cami Swan said there were many reasons she decided to move from Provo, Utah, to Steamboat Springs last June. She also said there are many reasons she has stayed, the sport of paddleboarding high on the list.

"Colorado's the scene for it. It's what is keeping me here," Swan said. "I wanted to experience the outdoors in Colorado. I was doing an internship for my major, outdoor recreation management, and fell in love with the culture here and the paddleboarding."

Swan, 23, put both her love and skill for the sport on display Saturday when she finished first in the women's portion of the SUP Cup, a three-event competition as part of the 35th annual Yampa River Festival in Steamboat.

In only its second year, the SUPs, or stand-up paddleboarders, started Saturday's competition with a timed sprint around the island on the Yampa River near Fetcher Pond before competing in a downriver race from Fetcher Pond to Charlie's Hole. The final event was the SUP Xross, a slalom that required the paddleboarders to maneuver around cones and through the C-hole.

While the number of female competitors in the sport remains small — there were three times as many males competing on Saturday — it is growing. Swan is one of the best local paddleboarders and is a team rider for Hala Gear, a Steamboat based company founded by Peter Hall.

Swan grew up rafting with her father in Utah. She got involved with paddleboarding when she started building boards for Glide, a Utah-based paddleboarding company. Now, she is hoping to make something of a career out of the growing sport.

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"I've gotten a little bit of experience under my belt. Now we'll see how I shape up with professionals," Swan said. "Next week, I'll be doing GoPro Games, and that's where the big dogs are. That's where the girls that travel and do this pretty much for a living are going to be. So that will be different than something like this."

Also planning to compete in the 2015 GoPro Mountain Games next week in Vail is Jeremiah Williams, who tied for first in the men's portion of the SUP Cup at Saturday's River Fest in Steamboat. Williams, originally from Dallas, is a raft guide who has lived in the Vail Valley for nine years. He is also a team rider for Hala Gear.

"It's kind of a silly sport, isn't it? You are floating down the river on this thin little board, and you are just kind of at the whim of the river, and the best you can do is hope to hold on and stay upright on your feet," Williams said.

"My company is into paddleboards, and somebody had to be the guinea pig, and I ended up being that guy. All of a sudden, I was the expert at the company when I hardly knew anything. Ever since then it's just been getting better and better."

Williams, who has been paddleboarding five years and competitively for two, was the outright leader heading into Saturday's final event. He won both the sprint and downriver race and looked to have the Xross event in hand. That is, until Charlie's Hole claimed yet another victim.

"Sometimes you start in first, and you finish last in the finals. That's the way that event goes," Williams said in good humor. "There are a lot of people that swam through that hole today. And for those who stayed upright, you got to give them a pat on the back because it's not easy to do."

Gypsum native Ken Hoeve finished in the tie with Williams, having slipped by him at the finish line in the Xross event. While the two ended up sharing the winner's portion of the $750 purse, Hoeve wanted to make it clear who the better paddler was.

"Even though we tied, he was the better paddler today," Hoeve said.

This year's River Fest was full of events Saturday, beginning with a 5-kilometer foot race at 9 a.m., a kayak slalom race at Rich Weiss Park, an open class downriver race and a raft race down the Yampa, which was moving close to 2,500 cubic feet of water per second.

The most popular event was by far the Tube Rodeo, which pitted the most courageous against Charlie's Hole. To win the event — and the $100 check — you had to both ride the C-hole longer than your competitors and do it in style, as judges were watching your every move.

And for Tube Rodeo champion Josh Burton, all it took was a little adhesive and a cool attitude.

"A little duck tape keeps it on. Shows your composure under stress," Burton said about how he kept his sunglasses on during the event. "This is my second tube rodeo. I won in 2009. Steamboat has got such a great community of people that show up like this."

Saturday was also Burton's birthday, and he was easily a fan favorite during the rodeo. Between his long blonde mustache and cool shades, he made everything look way too easy. Burton, a North Carolina native who lives in Steamboat during the winter, was more than happy to take home the winner's check, which he said he'd spend on his birthday dinner.

"It's such a beautiful day and a great time. Everybody's out having fun," Burton said. "You're just trying not to get flipped over. Just make it look good, give a wave for the crowd. It's all about looking good. If nobody takes a picture of it or a pretty girl doesn't see it, it doesn't count."

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