A Brief Overview Of Durango Whitewater

Long before we began seeing kayakers negotiating gnarly creeks and careening down waterfalls on the pages of magazines and on our television screens, a cadre of Durango whitewater enthusiasts were quietly running the next river, practicing the perfect eddy turn, searching out a great adrenalin rush. It is not surprising, therefore, that a program such as the one offered by Durango Whitewater Center of Excellence would grow in the fertile water-sport soil of Durango, Colorado.

It was around 1988 when Nancy Wiley, a long-time Durango resident and kayaking icon, started a kids’ kayaking school at Four Corners River Sports. She had been paddling herself for years and wanted to provide training so lots of kids could enjoy the sport, and at the same time, she could help her business to expand. However, after learning the basics at the kayaking school, where were beginners to go for more extensive training and seasoning? How about a club focused on whitewater slalom? It was an aspect of the sport enjoyed by Nancy and many of her friends. Slalom racing was invigorating, but beyond that, training in slalom afforded kayakers a high level of skill, which helped them become all-around safer boaters.

So Durango Whitewater was born. Nancy, Mike Freeburn, John Brennan and others were the driving forces in the beginning. It was established as a not-for-profit club and was managed by a small board of directors, which included parents of some early racers. Jim and Richlyn Clements were very active early on. Nancy was also on the board of the National Whitewater Slalom Committee (part of U.S. Canoe & Kayak Team, now known as USA Canoe/Kayak), and when she heard that they were setting up Centers of Excellence around the country to promote slalom racing, she and the board volunteered Durango as a site.

Durango Whitewater has evolved over the years into a well-respected training program for whitewater slalom athletes. Wildwater has also had a place in the program, although it has been used more as a training tool for slalom rather than a focal point of the program. We have provided training camps for local and national athletes in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. However, the primary focus of our program is the day-in/day-out training sessions for our local athletes. Athletes range from nine years of age through adults, and ability levels range from beginners to world-class slalom racers (see Membership Requirements). Our mission is to provide training for competitive athletes; however, there is a place in our programs for those who are interested in competing only at local races, as well as for those who aspire to represent the United States in world competitions. In fact, our membership includes numerous athletes who have represented their country on Cadet, Junior and Senior National Teams, as well as at least one U.S. Olympic Team member.

USACK has provided some funds for our programs, but most of the funding comes from our own local fundraising activities. The founders of the organization envisioned a program which would be inclusive of all paddlers who are inspired to train and work hard, regardless of their financial situation. Raising enough funds to carry on our programs, and staying true to our founders’ vision, has at times been a daunting task; however, it has been worth the effort.

Durango Whitewater Center of Excellence continues as a not-for-profit organization managed by a board of directors made up of parents, coaches and people well respected in the sport at a national level. For more information about Durango Whitewater Center of Excellence.

Membership Requirements

Anyone can be a member of Durango Whitewater, whether a serious training athlete, recreational paddler, or a non-paddler who simply wants to support the program. However, for those who would like to receive training (coaching), there are certain requirements.

Training athletes must be at least nine years of age and have already completed a minimum of four weeks of training with a kayking school. They must have mastered basic paddling and saftey skills, and they must demonstrate a solid roll, although a combat roll is not a requirement in the beginning. In addition, they must be competent enough to run Smelter Rapid on the Animas River at average flows (2000 cfs and lower). Those hoping to become training athletes will be evaluated by one of our coaches to determine if they meet our basic requirements, and if so, the coaches have sole authority in determining the group with which that athlete will train. Our function is NOT to teach basic whitewater skills, but rather to accept paddlers who already have those skills and help them become the best paddlers possible. Through our Sharks and Minnows program, we may make exceptions to some of these requirements on an occasional basis in order to encourage younger kids to pursue slalom in the future. However, acceptance into this group is based solely on our coaches’ evaluations and recommendations.

Training athletes will receive coaching commensurate with their level of commitment. An athlete who shows up for coached sessions on a consistent basis, trains on his/her own outside of formal sessions, and works hard will receive more attention than those who are sporadic or lackadaisical in their approach.

We do not provide equipment and gear. Training athletes must provide their own. It is acceptable for beginning slalom and/or wildwater athletes to use plastic playboats, although they will need to plan on purchasing the appropriate equipment at some point, if they decide to stay in the program. We are often able to help those athletes just starting out to find used slalom boats, in order to help them keep their costs down.

Membership in Durango Whitewater Center of Excellence carries with it certain responsibilities, especially for training athletes. Everyone is expected to “give back” to the program. This means showing up to help at course maintenance workdays and river cleanup days, coaching lower level athletes on occasion, and any other duties assigned by the coaches or the Durango Whitewater Board of Directors. In addition, members should be cognizant of the fact that they are representatives of Durango Whitewater, and their river community behavor, both on and off the river, should represent the organization in a positive manner.

Membership in American Canoe Association (ACA) is required as part of the Durango Whitewater membership. This is for insurance purposes. Registration form, USACK waiver and ACA waiver are required, along with a check covering fees. Durango Whitewater memberships are renewable every year during March, regardless of the month during the year in which you originally joined.