The field of contestants for the annual Cheat Canyon Downriver Race in Preston County on May 3 is expected be larger than normal for the 10-mile downriver race through the storied rapids of Cheat Canyon.
This year’s 25th annual race will be one of nine worldwide ranking events sponsored by the International Canoe Federation, which the International Olympic Committee recognizes as the worldwide governing body for paddle sports. The ranking event gives wildwater paddlers not affiliated with national teams the chance to compete and be rated alongside some of the world’s top whitewater canoe and kayak racers.
The only other ICF ranking race held in the U.S. this year took place earlier this month on North Carolina’s Nantahala River, drawing competitors from as far as South Africa and Australia.
“We expect the number of racers this year to inflate beyond the 90 to a little more than 100 who usually compete,” said Beth Warwick, spokeswoman for the Friends of Cheat, the river restoration organizing that sponsors the race.
Several current and past U.S. team paddlers have announced plans to take part in this year’s race, a key component of Cheat Fest, the Friends of Cheat’s annual fundraising event, held at Albright May 3-4.
ICF judges will be on hand for the May 3 event, but basic race rules will not change for this year’s competition, which will include its traditional mass start from a put-in point one mile below Albright.
ICF rankings will include those racing in one-person kayaks, in men’s and women’s divisions, and one- or two-person whitewater canoes, also in men’s and women’s divisions. Those racing in kayaks longer than 14 feet, 2 inches, will not be ranked by the ICF, but are welcome to compete in the downriver race. The same holds true with one-person canoes longer than 14 feet, 1 inch, or two-person canoes longer than 16 feet, 4 inches.
Next year, the ICF’s World Championship competition will take place in late April on the Nantahala, followed one week later by the ICF’s World Cup four-race series on the Cheat River. Two of the West Virginia races will take place in Cheat Canyon, while the other two will be held in the Cheat Narrows section of the stream.
According to the Friends of Cheat, the ICF’s World Cup competition has not been held in the U.S. since 2003, and not outside of Europe since 2009, when the race series took place in Tasmania. The last ICF World Championship race to be held in the U.S. took place in 1989 on Maryland’s Savage River.
This year’s Cheat Fest celebration includes a 14-band musical lineup that includes Vince Herman and Friends, Rasta Rafiki, Hillbilly Gypsies and Stewed Mulligan, an art market, craft vendors, boating workshops, manufacturers’ displays, kid-friendly activities, a 5k run and food vendors. For more information, visit cheatfest.org.