by Kevin Yount
I was very eager to return to the Millrace Massacre and Iceman Championship after a great reception there by boaters and spectators in 2009. Since then cold or job duties had kept me away from the event. I decided to return and was thrilled that a few other riverboarders were keen to get in the water.
Getting in the water would be Eric Hamrick, Al Heim, and I. We jumped in for a practice run prior to the racer meeting. My goal this year was simply to make all of the moves. I did it in practice, but was amazed at how hard I was working to make the moves on this course.
Then the flow from Lake Murray Dam bumped up before the event and I knew that the moves were going to be more pushy.
Launching out of the starting eddy, you must stay to the left of a buoy and that makes it very challenging to ferry over to catch an eddy above the next required move – pulling into very tight corner eddy and touching a rock. I made the edge of the set up eddy and fought for over a minute before I realized that I couldn’t make it.
I turned downstream intent on making the next move and thought I had a straight ahead seam, but the current pulled me left over a pour-over ledge that forms Dumb Ass hole. I resurfaced in a surf and the hole wouldn’t let me surf back to an eddy for the next move, so I had to surf out the opposite side and missed that move too.
I made the 4th move around the big rock by Fishermen’s Eddy and started booking towards the finish line. Rather than simply crossing past a set point to stop the clock, you must touch the final cone.
The current shot me past the cone and left me at the back of the eddy struggling to get to the cone. I was tired and made a terrible showing for riverboarding with my time, but at least the crowd had gotten a kick out of me surfing my way out of Dumb Ass.
The combination of cold water and not being in the water for a few months really took its toll on my leg muscles. Bottom line, I’m going to have to make pool work a priority in the off season like I have in past years if I want to do well in this event.
A new boating friend that I met jokingly summed it up best.
“ When you have a run that’s not as good as you’re capable of doing you’re like aw man, I’ve got to wait an entire year to have a chance to screw up again.” – John Derrick
I grabbed some kettle chips and fruit and enjoyed watching the Bellyak and “ Tube-for-all “ race where they took a straight shot through the rapid. Then I began walking to where the Iceman race was going to start. When I had been here before, I opted out of the doing this much longer race and only about 15 boaters raced in it.
I was thrilled to see over 40 people getting ready to race. The Millrace Massacre restricts boats to 8’6” or shorter in length, but in the Iceman, anything goes. You will see wildwater boats, creek boats, ocean kayaks, open canoes, two-person ducky crews, and (now) riverboards.
One open boating legend even let his dog swim the first lap with a pfd on (though I’m pretty sure the dog wasn’t officially entered in the race).
We lined up and someone said “Go” (unfortunately I don’t think they are allowed to start the race with a miniature cannon like they used to).
I immediately got splashed in the face by all of the paddles digging into the water, but the boats finally pulled away and then I had space. Being the shortest craft in the race, I was doing good to stay close to the duckies and stay ahead of the aforementioned dog.
Brutal is the best word to describe this race as there is over a ¼ of a mile of flat water before the current picks up and enters Millrace rapid. My legs were dead before I even made it to the rapid, but at least I got a little respite from the rapid moving fast.
I stayed in the current and made my way through Mosh Pit / Pop Up Hole, then kept kicking down to the bridge. I was charging straight into boaters who had already made it to the bridge and were paddling upstream to the beach.
I finally made it to the bridge and then turned upstream to make it to a suitable spot to get out of the water.
The best wetsuit set up for today would have been a heavy farmer john with a light wetsuit jacket, but since my light jacket had a broken zipper, I had to wear my heavy jacket. This is fine for snow melt runs, but will cause you to overheat in a race.
I emptied a helmet full of water on my head and started the land portage back upstream. Despite the fact that I would be trying to move on land while wearing fins, I thought I would crush this part of the race and make up some ground since I would be carrying the lightest craft in the race.
What I didn’t plan for was my legs being so trashed from the first section of the race that they would be practically useless.
After tripping over all the debris at the shoreline edge, I finally found the trail and ran about 20 yards before my legs shut down and I was reduced to a walk.
As I write these words 4 days after the race, my thighs are still sore. I was barely shambling up the trail and yet I was breathing harder than when I run sprints. Simply taking each step and not stopping was a victory in itself.
Finally I finished the trail and after another helmet bath I was in the water. Going back from walking to swimming was a good relief for my legs.
My mind was also reenergized because I had never run the river right side of Millrace Massacre and would be looking for the fastest line through the boulder garden.
During the hike I had passed the two ducky teams and made up ground on a father and son canoe team. As I entered the rapid, I noticed that someone had pinned their boat and the safety boaters were extracting it. The father and son team canoe took on too much water ( so much that the gunwale was below the water line and only their float bags where keeping them afloat) and they ended up swamping.
I came through the rapid and then tried to surf for the crowd at Pop Up Hole, but just missed it from dropping in on the fly. The final part was to slide off my board and swim the final eddy in to shore.
I pulled up, half of my body cold, half of my body burning up; and all of it tired. I watched the final boats come in and then as I watched one of them pass their poker chip in, I realized that I had made the newbie mistake of forgetting to turn in my chip. Officially, I placed last because I was the last to turn in my poker chip.
I ferried over to the other shore. I was still having trouble walking, but my endorphin levels were off the charts. I had just become the first person to riverboard in The Iceman and had finished the race.
It was time to get over to the Canoeing for Kids’ property (a cool nonprofit in the area that gets inner city kids on the water ) for the after party. If you like bonfires, southern BBQ, and hot tunes spun by a DJ, the after party is where it’s at.
I was very glad that other riverboarders came down to race with me and look forward to many more coming in future years. One of the boaters in the Iceman said they would be joining me on a board next year; and perhaps if enough boarders show interest, maybe we can have our own short race straight through Millrace rapid as well.
Competing is good training as well and this one definitely kicked my butt. I made some new friends that I hope to see on other rivers in the future and I always enjoy being an ambassador to represent riverboarding.
A lot of local whitewater scenes could take a lesson from the Saluda Boyz that put on this event. They are very welcoming and friendly towards visitors from other places and open to whatever whitewater craft you’d like to take down the river as long as you’re safe.
Thank you to all of the volunteers, fellow competitors, and spectators that made the 13th annual Millrace Massacre and Iceman Championship an event worth freezing your keister off for.
Kevin Yount is a face level sports enthusiast and ambassador from Asheville, NC. He is also the founder of Appalachian Riverboard Company and is a team rider for his company’s Leviathan Squad.