A Kayaking Blog By Dan Simenc

Green River Days

Green River Days

Nov 17, 2011

The Green River Narrows; Asheville’s bread and butter creek; a South East ultra classic; the host of the “Greatest Show In All Of Sports;” this fine three mile stretch of falling water has inspired, trained, beat down, and entertained hundreds of kayakers over its 25 years of paddling history.

My personal history with the river began 10 years ago. At the age of fourteen the Green River Narrows was one of the first steep creeks I paddled, and at the time the Big Three (Go Left (and die), Gorilla, Sunshine) were the most difficult rapids I had ever run. A happy memory of that day’s stoke still floats around my head from time to time.

This fall I revisited the Green with a lot more confidence and experience. I was still equally impressed with the quality of the run, and the Big Three still triggered a welcomed adrenaline buzz. Squeezing through the narrow exit of Go Left, subbing through the Notch above Gorilla, and flying hot off the left side of Sunshine never failed to bring a smile to my face. The river certainly lives up to its classic status.

A beautiful Green River afternoon.

Training Days

One goal my visit was to compete in the 16th annual Green River Narrows Race. Billed as “The Greatest Show In All Of Sports,” the event is the most famous kayaking extreme race in the States, and probably the most fun to watch. So fun, in fact, that hundreds of spectators hike deep into the gorge to line the banks and cheer paddlers through the gauntlet.

The 0.6 mile course drops about 400 feet through several low-volume, technical rapids divided by short pools. At mile 0.4 the course climaxes with the tricky 18-foot waterfall, Gorilla, then continues the fall over several steep slides until the finish. Most racers are happy if they break the 5 minute mark, but the course record held by local legend Andrew Holcombe is a blazing 4 minutes and 18 seconds.

Two-time Green Race champion Andrew Holcombe shows us how to Go Left and not die. (The traditional line through this rapid is down the far river right side, but the fast and exciting line is left.)

Most modern day creek boats are around 8.5 feet long, but 12 foot boats are used to log the best times at the Green Race. The classic long boat used to be the now discontinued Prijon Tornado, but in recent years both Dagger and Liquid Logic have begun producing modern long boats designed specifically for the race.

While visiting Asheville the “Green Man” himself, Mr. Pat Keller, graciously put Tyler and I up at his hillside home, and loaned me an old prototype of the Dagger Green Boat for the race. My only previous long boat experience was learning to kayak in a Dagger Blast many years ago, and I was a little apprehensive taking the 12-footer down the Green my first time.

A successful Gorilla lap by the author.


Tyler poses with his borrowed Perception Matrix S between practice runs over Gorilla. Unfortunately a shoulder injury sidelined him from the race, but spectating proved to be an excellent consolation prize.

To my delight the Green Boat handled very similarly to a creek boat, and was really fun to paddle. If you could keep it straight and in the current, it was fast. During the week before the race, I joined the the throng of other long boaters racing down the Narrows. First we studied the individual lines, and then we practiced linking them up in mock race runs. The put-in, take-out, and popular eddies in between were always full of colorful kayakers getting stoked for race day.

As Saturday neared the crowds grew, and the pre-race festivities began with the final LVM premier at Asheville Pizza & Brewing. Smack talking, boat mending, final race runs, and other last minute preparations carried the huge pool of racers to a calm Friday night. The stage was set for an epic showdown that would begin at high noon the following day.

A social parking lot - the take out of the Green River Narrows.

Race Day

The morning comes and it’s time to get psyched. Boaters flood the put-in parking lot and Jason Hale gives his annual race day speech. The trail to the water is a line. Many paddlers carry two boats in, and a couple bring three. Start times are seeded by last year’s results, and since it was my first race I’m near the back and have time to do some spectating at Go Left before my first run. Go Left is one of the most challenging rapids on the course and it dished out its fair share of carnage during the short time I had to spectate.

Another two-time Green Race champion Jason Hale elevates the stoke with his traditional Saturday morning Green Race speech.


French invader Eric Deguil raced in three categories and placed in the top three of each. Not a bad showing.


Dane Jackson charges out the starting gate on his first of three runs.


The man bear himself, Jesse Wilensky, charges shirtless through Go Left on raceday. While most of us have spent the cold fall tucked away in our Drysuits, Wilensky has been baring it all on the river, never wearing more than his cut-off union suit.

I hike back up to my kayak and it is soon time for me to go. Things start well and I cruise through the upper stretch of the course. The crowd first appears at Go Left and continues down to Gorilla where the banks look like stands in an arena. Approaching “Pencil Sharpener” I look left at someone holding a sign at water level that reads “Spank The Monkey!” I smile as I fly off the center boof and approach the Notch. I’m coming in hot and a bit too far right, but continue directly into the curling seam that guards the ramping lip of Gorilla. The Notch flexes its muscles and spins me sideways, forcing me to line up and run the 18-foot flume backwards.

My final backstrokes over the lip prove futile and my stern crashes straight down, pitoning the shallow landing. The boat cracks (again), the backband breaks, and I am ejected from the boat as I hit the speed trap upside down. In a flash my hopes for a good time are dashed, but I’m happy to be unscathed, and the stellar rescue crew pulls my boat and I to shore before the next slide. Here I regroup and eventually hop back in to finish the race with a time of 7:41 in front of a cheering crowd.

I catch my breath at the bottom before hiking back to race my borrowed short boat down the course. At only 8 feet long, the Habitat 74 is shorter than most of the boats in this class, but it gets me through the course intact with a much faster time of 5:26. At last I can hike up and experience the thrill of watching the rest of the racers crash through Gorilla. And they deliver. Swims, backwards, upside down, open canoes; watching this race is just as fun as competing in it! I understand why so many people make the steep hike into the gorge for the show.

After the last racer clears the course the action moves just downstream to Sunshine. Most of this scary-looking 12 foot fall lands on an upward pointing rock spraying water high into the air. Narrow lines to both the left and right sides exist, with the right being the traditional line, and the left the more radical. On this day it seemed almost everyone was going left. I continued my hot left streak and boofed both my long and short boats directly off the left side of falls. From the bottom of Sunshine I slowly tugged my short boat out the final 1.5 miles of the river while my long boat filled with water from its latest gash.

Hot Left Sunshine with a rail grab thrown in for some race day flair. One of the best lines on the river.

Sunshine from below. The landing zone is narrow on this one.

The take-out was alive with celebrating racers who eventually moved down the road to the wild after-party. When the smoke cleared, it was announced that local favorite Isaac Levinson had won the race with a slick time of 4:22. Remarkably, the champ had come down with a sudden case of Bell’s Palsy two weeks earlier and had lost control of the left side of his face. Because he couldn’t blink, he was only able to wear one contact, but his one good eye kept him on line for the victory. Triumph was rampant amongst everyone at the party and the festivities carried on late into the cold November night.

I’ll certainly be back to race the Green again, and I hope to carry some of the spirit of the race back west. Long boat racing is awesome and out west we have amazing potential for courses. The Little White, North Fork, California…some epic possibilities exist. Until next time enjoy this sweet compilation of Green Race carnage, and if you watch closely enough you’ll catch me getting spanked by the monkey.

There is a wealth of online media and information about the Green Race. Check out these links to learn more.

Full Green Race Results Database – Excellent database and page created by UNC Asheville econ professor and paddler Chris Bell.

Full 2011 Race Coverage – Stellar race coverage by Pilot Collective.

LVM Race Coverage Archives – John Grace’s awesome Green Race archive.

Fall colors on the Green River.

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