Ain’t Louie Fest! Tellico Race

The crowd gathers to watch the Tellico Race.

I’m not sure how non PC it is for a kayaker to write a story about a canoe festival, but I’m going for it anyway. Yesterday was the major kick start to Ain’t Louie Fest–a week where canoers from along the east coast and Canada come down to rule the Southeast’s rivers. As long as the rivers run, the canoers will be on them and that includes the Tellico, whatever’s in the Smokies, and possibly the Cheoah the following Saturday.

Yesterday started ALF, and man was it a

Louie himself rocking Baby Falls.

start! Dozens of canoests put in on the upper Tellico and finished the race at Baby Falls, a 14-foot waterfall into a pool right above a shallow slide. It’s a photogenic rapid, and lots of pictures were taken. Canoests also lend themselves better for a picture.

As I stood watching Baby Falls, I couldn’t help thinking that the canoests looked like they

One of many boofs off Baby Falls

were diving into the rapids while the kayakers kind of just appeared to be scooting their butts in plastic over the edge and flopping in. Again, I’m a kayaker so I’m sorry to betray us, but canoeists just look a little sexier when they’re styling rapids.

Anyway, the Tellico Race had different divisions–juniors, mortals, superhero, and tandem. Soon after the first man hit the water at Baby Falls, the others followed–one, two, four people right after the other landing Baby Falls (not always right side up). They just kept coming, and the size of the canoeing community quickly became apparent. On a typical day, kayakers dominate the river, and one tends to think canoeing is a small piece of boating or a pastime left to class II-III older people.

Just a taste of the number of canoers running upper Tellico.

Not so. These boaters were impressive and, honestly, graceful. They made an art of river running in ways rarely with seen kayakers. From my perspective, I think it’s because kayakers can muscle their way through class III+ fairly easily. We’ve got the roll and an extra paddle blade to help us when we miss a line. So we’re more likely to advance levels without getting the technique to quite where it needs to be. Canoeists have more at stake when they mess up so technique is more essential early on in their boating careers. Patience, too. Canoeists really need to know a line and anticipate their moves, where a kayaker can muscle through the line they blew.

They make me think of film vs. digital cameras. Like digital cameras, kayaking allows for

Best trick ever in a long canoe over Baby Falls, waterwheel.

more mistakes, and takes people to new places and new levels of whitewater. Yet like film, canoeing offers a simplicity of form unparalleled in beautiful expression of the idea. For yesterday and the rest of this week, it is riding the river.


2 responses to “Ain’t Louie Fest! Tellico Race

  1. As a long time kayaker and now a shredder bucket lister- class 4-5 (BY THE WAY) I concur with your wonderful observations. I kept re-watching the videos of the Upper Tellico ALF race and noticed just how often those that tried to make pushes or adjustments at the falls most prominent cleavage were undone. Those however that it the falls edge regardless of where they hit it with poise, posture and gave into the flow… Zen Like…. where successful and most elegantly so.

    These ALFer Whitewater Canoeists have earned my respect on the water, as caretakers of the rivers and as friends you can count on in a clutch. We at the Outpost Pavilion in Tellico have come to know what I once called bobber riders as true artists on and in the water. They are more understanding of the water than Rembrandt or Gustave Dore…. maybe more than Frank Lloyd Wright. They actually know the water like the Mohawk or Cherokee Indians new it… and master it through both understanding and submission to the water in a canoe.

    We kayaker’s work the water in touches, twists and turns for the most part on the surface and sometimes deeper down but more often on top like water bugs. We know the water for the most part as surface artists or skaters. As you said, we always have the roll to bail us out. I always envisioned myself when kayaking as a leaf with arms that could often just touch it’s way out of a dilemma. A touch, push or shove may right the whitewater canoeist but often will not especially at the falls cleavage (too late)… but an understanding of the water deeper down seems more essential to their craft. Hit the sweet spots well or wipe out!

    There is a magical beauty in this sport/craft/mysticism that I have come to appreciate as much as you did yesterday. I am very proud to be associated with these kind warriors of the water.,,, and have come to hold their falling water ballet in (of all things) canoes as well as their robust love of life, nature and people in very high esteem.

    Very nice post. Glad others see this too!

    Jim DeBernardi – Outpost Pavilion, Tellico Plains, Tn

    • Well put, Jim! The river is a wondrous spirit and those that can read it and understand as canoests can (and kayakers) are truly gifted. Thanks for your great comment!

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