For some visiting downtown Golden on June 22, this was their first rodeo.
However, this wasn’t — to paraphrase the Garth Brooks song — the broncs-blood-steers-and-mud type of rodeo. This was the surf-boat-loop-and-float kind.
The annual Golden Kayak Rodeo returned to the Clear Creek Whitewater Park on June 22. The event, hosted by the Colorado Whitewater Association and sponsored by Golden River Sports, drew fewer competitors than usual. The last rodeo in 2019 had 30 participants.
Organizer Dave Holzman said he received the city’s permission to host the event only three weeks beforehand, so he had a short advertising window.
The association’s downriver race will be 5 p.m. June 29 at the whitewater park, and Holzman hoped that would draw more participants.
The small but mighty rodeo pressed on, with both intermediate and advanced competitors across its junior’s, women’s, and men’s divisions.
The competitors took turns moving in and out of what’s called a playhole, which is a water feature on Clear Creek, to perform technical maneuvers and other tricks.
Some moves have obvious names: side-surfing, spinning, and a front loop, which is a front flip with the kayak. Other sound like something pulled off a Blockbuster shelf — Space Godzilla, Phonics Monkey, roundhouse, splitwheel and McNasty.
Denver’s Timothy Kunin, who took first place in the men’s intermediate group, said the rodeo’s a “low-stress way to bring people in to compete.”
Kayaking, but especially playboating, is very competitive, he described. Meanwhile, the rodeo is all about having fun and improving one’s skills.
While the water was too low this year to stick some moves, Kunin said he’s improved every time he’s competed in Golden.
Aran Kilroy, who took first in the advanced group, is a former member of the Irish national kayaking team and recently moved to Lakewood. While he’s competed in dozens of other competitions around the world, he was new to the Golden rodeo scene.
Colorado has a shorter competition season than elsewhere, he described, but this was a nice way to finish out the summer’s freestyle events.
“It’s fun to come in and throw loops with the locals,” he said.
Raleigh Anderson, who was the only competitor in the women’s division, has kayaked for 12 years but only joined the Colorado Whitewater Association recently. So, this was her first kayak rodeo as well.
“It was super fun, even though I’m not the best playboater,” she said. "100%, I would do it again. It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors with friends.”
Anderson praised the Colorado Whitewater Association, saying all the events and competitions it hosts helps kayakers to form a tight-knit community. The people she’s met have become “more than just river friends,” Anderson said, as she now sees many of them outside of kayaking.