The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Poling, poling on the river
If some advance polling had been done, this year’s National Canoe Poling Championships might not have been held on Memorial Day weekend.
American Canoe Association officials said the event typically draws 25 to 30 contestants from around the country. It attracted 12 this year to Warner’s Rapids on the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg Friday and Saturday.
“Too much else going on,” Doug Ebeling of Spring, Tex., near Houston, said Saturday as he stood in the sunshine, timing other competitors and cheering them on.
Ebeling wouldn’t let a family cookout stop him from coming halfway across the country to compete. He said the polers themselves are something of an extended family.
“We see each other every year, so we’re a pretty close-knit group,” he said.
Despite the smaller-than-usual turnout, there were competitors not only from Texas, but also from Maine, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, said Chris Stec, chief operating officer of ACA, which is based in downtown Fredericksburg.
Stec said the organization, founded in 1880 in Lake George, N.Y., moved to Fredericksburg six years ago.
ACA has 20,000 members in 300 paddling clubs across the country, Stec said. It has certified 5,500 instructors in sports including kayaking and white-water canoeing.
He said poling goes back thousands of years.
“People were poling before they were paddling,” Stec said.
He said the ACA started doing canoe poling racing in 1865, using meticulously carved and sanded cedar and ash poles. Early man sometimes used saplings for poles.
Scott Stepenuck of Ballston Spa, N.Y., chairman of the National Canoe Poling Competition Committee, said he likes poling canoes better than paddling them because he doesn’t need to have a vehicle waiting for him downstream to make the trip back. “You pole your way upstream, then enjoy the ride back to your starting point,” he said.
The event, hosted by the Virginia Outdoor Center, was dominated by Chip and Lani Cochrane, from Carrabassette Valley, Maine.
Chip Cochrane won three events: the men’s open wildwater, men’s open slalom and men’s master slalom.
Lani Cochrane won the women’s open wildwater, and the women’s open slalom.
In the slalom, competitors navigate a series of buoys. The wildwater competitions involve more strategy.
Some polers gingerly traversed the river’s edge on their way upstream in an attempt to avoid the strongest currents.
But in the women’s wildwater competition, Lani Cochrane attacked the rapids head on, overpowering them. Then she zipped back downstream to the finish line.
“Open wildwater, start to finish, is as fast as you can go with no obstacles,” she said. “It’s kind of a fun race because you pick your own course.”
Michael Zitz 540/846-5163