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Wave of boaters hits house in GV

John HartAndre Spino-Smith of Virginia (left) and Chad Crabtree of Colorado chat near their sponsor car from Dagger.com on Race Street Monday.
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They rolled through town in the dead of night, their spanking new Subarus and heavy-hauler dually pickups with gargantuan fifth-wheel trailers splashed with logos such as “Extreme Expeditions” and “Liquid Logic” across their sheet-metal frames.

At first blush, the vehicles lining Grass Valley’s Race Street could have been NASCAR promotional vehicles – if not for the 6-foot kayaks with polyethelyne paddles perched atop most of the vehicles.



Dozens of tanned men and women on the fledgling professional kayaking circuit arrived at the two-story house for a day of rest and relaxation, and a run down the South Yuba River Monday before heading to the Oregon Cup competition in Maupin, at least six hours away.




For most of these athletes – many of whom are barely old enough to shave or wear lipstick – this is an opportunity to travel in cramped cars, often driving on little more than a caffeine jag or the adrenaline from shooting a Class 5 river rules.

Andre Spino-Smith, 19, travels nine months of the year on the pro circuit.

“It started purely from my own interest,” Spino-Smith said Monday as he packed his brand-new Subaru Outback wagon full of gear. The hood was emblazoned with “Dagger Kayak” logos and a Web site address.

“I’d never been in a kayak before I was 11,” said Spino-Smith, who described the professional kayaking circuit as “living out of a car for seven months and traveling to beautiful places.”

“I get to do what I want to do every day, and I don’t have a 9-5 job,” said the Floyd, Va., native.

The Teva Sport Sandals/American Whitewater kayak tour began with a race on the American River this month.

Before the season ends this fall, members will have visited Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Vail, Colo.; Rock Island, Tenn.; and the American River, where they competed before stopping in Grass Valley.

They travel in brand-new cars bought by kayak companies; their clothing and gear is paid for, much like tennis and golf stars.

The appeal of the sport, one that is populated by younger daredevils but features 38-year-old Eric Jackson as world champion kayaker, may not be as widespread as the one with Tiger, but it’s growing quickly.

“There’s a good chance this could be an Olympic sport, but it will be a few years yet,” Spino-Smith said.

His traveling partner, 18-year-old Chad Crabtree, said the fact that sponsors pay for much of their gear is a good sign.

“We’re just glad that (energy drink) Red Bull is supporting their athletes and giving us a place to stay. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing,” said Crabtree, who lives in Durango, Colo.

The kayakers, like others their age, took a while to wake up. Only the smell of pancakes rousted Nikki Kelly of New Zealand out of her sleep in a van, where at least a half-dozen others were slumbering amongst camping stoves, lanterns and clothing.

Her take on the Yuba, part of which is wild and scenic: “We love the river. It’s world-class.”

“California has the best whitewater in the world,” said veritable graybeard Don Beveridge, 36, of Colorado. “If the South Yuba had releases more often, we’d be here all the time.”


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