‘The best day of the year’: Steamboat celebrates the 43rd Yampa River Festival (with photos)

For many locals, the first weekend of June is a reminder of how fortunate Steamboat Springs and Routt County are to have the Yampa River. Perhaps, no event is a better reminder of that than the Yampa River Festival, which was celebrated for the 43rd time this weekend.

The four-day festival began Thursday and will end Sunday, but the peak of it all was Saturday’s river competitions at Charlie’s Hole behind the Bud Werner Library. 

“This is like the best day of the year, it’s gotta be,” Steamboat Springs High School graduate Brooks Overstake said as he competed in the tube rodeo. “Everybody is on the river.”

Viewers flocked to the riverbanks Saturday to watch the tubers, paddle boarders and kayakers surf, as well as the kayak, paddle board and raft races, and a crowd favorite, the raft rodeo. 

Competing in his fifth Yampa River Fest, rafter Branden Hillman has become an expert on riding the rapid. He said his group took some time Friday to discuss a strategy, and it paid off with a run that got the crowd’s energy pumping Saturday.

“You want to pin up to that and give it all your weight, and then pull your weight back as soon as you can in that rapid and keep her straight,” Hillman said. “That is the main thing with the surfing, keep her straight in there the whole time, keep your weight back and move the boat straight forward.”

For Hillman, it is the uniqueness of the day that makes the festival so awesome. There are not many places where you can find so many people celebrating around one short rapid in the center of town. 

Maybe even more important is how much you learn about yourself in these competitions. Hillman said you never realize how you handle these terrifying situations until you are in them. It takes courage and everyone is there to support you and show some love. 

The purpose of it all is to have fun, and that was the approach taken by Marcus Laurin, known as the “Waterfall Droppa.”

Marcus Laurin dives onto a flipped raft caught up in the C-Hole during the 43rd Yampa River Festival on Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Steamboat Springs.
Eli Pace/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“This year we had a lot of fun in the raft rodeo,” Laurin said. “We tore it up, flipped as many rafts as we could, styled as many points, jumped as high as we could and tried to put on a show for the local people of Steamboat because we are so lucky to live in this town.”

Laurin came all the way back to town from a trip to Florida just to compete in his fourth river fest. He has competed in a plethora of events over the years including the Adam Mayo Memorial Fish Creek Race on Friday night, which he said was made up of “the best boaters in the 970.”

He got nearly no rest Friday night and was right back on the river early Saturday morning. He could not believe the amount of people that showed up and cheered on the contestants all afternoon long. 

“I love that everyone comes out and supports the local boaters,” Laurin said. “Even if they don’t boat, they get to come out and support, throw money into the local river, clean it up, and we are so lucky to have the Yampa River, which is one of the most wild and scenic rivers in Colorado.”

Rafters, kayakers, tubers and paddle boarders face the C-Hole during the 43rd Yampa River Festival on Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Steamboat Springs.
Eli Pace/Steamboat Pilot & Today

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