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Good news from Dryden for the Canoe Splash

The Arenz brothers, Brett and Devin, remain the only champs of the Atikokan Canoe Splash pro canoe race.

The St. Paul, Minnesota, duo paddled to their fourth successive title in the Canada Day race, and again won both legs of the event.

The race is paddled in two parts: the first is 14 km. on Upper Steep Rock Lake. From a mass start at the Steep Rock Dam, the paddlers race out to the Wagita Bay Dam, then turn around and come back. After a 20-minute break, the 16 km pursuit portion of the race goes off from the Steep Rock Dam. The racers portage the dam into Apungsisagen Lake, head downstream (west) to Tracy Rapids, then turn around and paddle upstream all the way to Legion Point. The river portion of the race is particularly skill-testing, given all its twists and turns.

A pair of newcomers, Dave Johnson and Stan Anusiewicz, of Sarnia, Ontario, placed second, and were the top Canadian finishers. Top local honours went to Darcy Matichuk, who teamed with his Quetico 100 paddling partner, Fred Rayman (Ely/Atikokan); they placed third overall.

The best news for the event, which was sponsored again by the XY Company and Atikokan Foodland, might have actually come from Dryden. It hosted a pro canoe race on Saturday, July 3, as part of its Moose Fest. Six of the racers from the Canoe Splash went on to race in the pro class there – Jim Spence and Reijo Peltoniemi, Chris Gerwing and Aaron Alto, and Rayman and Dave Herrington.

"A second race will really help attract more racers to come up here," said organizer Spencer Meany. "It's tough for many of them to come for one race, especially in the middle of the week."

Rayman echoed that, and said the Dryden organizers seemed very committed to making the race there an annual event, and to work in cooperation with the Atikokan race.

"It's a nice course, on the Wabigoon River," he said. "It's almost like a bay – great for spectators." The racers there paddled six laps on a 5.5 km. course.

Micki Rayman also paddled in the Dryden race, in a citizens' (one lap) category. She and her niece, 14-year-old Haley Davis of St. Paul, won the women's division. Rayman she has retired from competitive racing, but has been paddling with Haley since she was an eight-year-old.

Canada Day

It looked like it would be a tough day for the paddlers here on Canada Day. The morning dawned with a steady rain that peaked about 8:30 am.

"It was about 11 degrees and raining when I went out; I had long underwear in the truck," said Matichuk. "But the rain stopped, and just when we took off the skies opened up and it got real nice."

Lower Steep Rock is a fairly sheltered lake, which makes it a great venue for the race. But conditions were not so good this year.

"It was the windiest day yet," said Rayman, who has raced every year. "There was a steady wind from the dead south, and the north end of the lake was pretty lively."

All the racers struggled with water in their boats, and Spencer Meany and Dave Herrington, who teamed up at the last minute for the race, actually swamped at one point. They'd never paddled together before. "I hadn't been in a canoe yet this year, and Dave had never been in the stern of a pro boat," said Meany.

The swamping cost them several precious minutes, and they had to work hard to make sure they stayed within 20 minutes of the leaders. (In order to qualify to race the river leg, competitors have to finish within 20 minutes of the leaders.) In the end, Meany/Herrington made it with several minutes to spare.

The Arenz brothers won the lake leg comfortably this year; last year Kjell Peterson and Rayman pushed them hard throughout, before finally losing out by three seconds.

This year the race was on for second and third places on the lake. Johnson and Anusiewicz took command on the back half, and eventually won second comfortably. But Matichuk/Rayman and Gerwing/LaVervere treated the few spectators who braved the early morning rain to a delightful neck-and neck battle coming home. The Winnipeg duo actually touched land first, but Matichuk and Rayman were quicker getting ashore, and the four raced the final twenty yards to the finish line.

As part of the Charleson funding provided a couple of years ago by the province, organizers purchased a sophisticated electronic timing system. One member of each pair wears an electronic device that triggers a sensor in a mat at the finish line. Racers know they've triggered the sensor when they hear a beep as they cross the line.

Well, Matichuk/Rayman and Gerwing/LaVervere crossed the line simultaneously. There was just one beep. They tied, down to the one-hundredth of a second, after paddling 14 kilometers and hauling their boats out of the water.

The Finish

The Arenz brothers dominated the river portion of the race. As the leaders, they started last. But by the time the racers actually entered the Atikokan River, they'd passed all seven other boats.

"With the water so low, the current was less, so it was a little easier paddling," said Devin.

That's true to a degree, but shallow water paddling has its own challenges, as veteran racer Rayman pointed out.

"In shallow water, you create a lot more resistance because of hydrostatic drag," he said. The issue is that as you paddle forward, you create water disturbances when the energy your paddling generates bounces back up from the river bottom. "In effect, you are climbing a wave all the time."

That's likely why the winners' time on the river was better than last year, but still a minute and a half slower than their best river time (1:27:51 in 2007).The river portion did settle third place, as Rayman and Matichuk pulled ahead of the Winnipeg pair. An impressive result, particularly for Matichuk, who had never paddled a pro boat before.

"A canoe is a canoe for me," he said. "I like all aspects of canoeing – solo, white water, recreational… I don't slot myself," he said, and went on to give his paddling partner, Rayman (along with his coach, and wife, Renee) for their success.

"Fred's kind of an infectious fellow," he said, citing his enthusiasm for the sport. "He's ten years older than me, and I have to keep up with him."

"I think Darcy must have been born in a canoe," said Rayman. "He's a great paddler, and adjusts more quickly than anyone I've ever seen."

A little bit of wilderness, a good work-out, and some great camaraderie. That's the spirit of the Atikokan Canoe Splash.

- Atikokan Progress on July 13, 2010