“Oh Be Joyful is my favorite one ever”
by Than Acuff
After a one-year hiatus, the internationally known Oh Be Joyful kayak race is back this year and set to go off on Saturday, June 22.
Oh Be Joyful creek is out the Slate River drainage pouring down from the basin behind Mt. Emmons and into the Slate River. It is a class V steep creek run, rife with waterfalls, slide rapids and make-or-break moves.
Tim Kegerman, Jack Barker and Dan Hicks are credited with the first descent of Oh Be Joyful back in 1992. Once word spread, the creek run gained renown, attracting some of the top boaters of the time such as Clay Wright, BJ Johnston and Tracy Clapp. Meanwhile a local contingent of kayakers that included Keith Fortin, Jeff Deutsch, Aaron Lypps, John Banker, Steve Melnick and Milo Wynne, to name a few, were making it part of their daily routine each spring.
But it wasn’t entirely a man show, as local women Andi Burnite, Niki Schroer and Bradley Richmond were in the mix as well.
“When it was high water, it was the most intense thing I’ve ever done,” says Deutsch. “You put on and the next thing you know you’re taking out but you’ve gone three-quarters of a mile and dropped 600 feet. It was like a time warp.”
Paul Raymond took over the reins of the famed race this year and has garnered the support of the Brick Oven, the Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce and several companies providing prizes for the event.
Raymond grew up kayaking and has traveled throughout the country as well as into Chile to seek out waterfalls and classic river and creek descents. He saw a DVD of the 2008 race and was instantly intrigued.
“I saw that and I was like, that’s where I want to be,” says Raymond.
After a brief stint at CU Boulder, Raymond came to the Gunnison Valley to seek out Oh Be Joyful in 2012 and was hooked instantly, joining into the race as well.
“I’ve run creeks all over the Front Range, in Chile and all of the ones around here,” says Raymond. “Oh Be Joyful is my favorite one ever. That’s what brought me to the valley. It’s world-known, it’s a big deal. People plan trips to Colorado to come to Crested Butte just to run Oh Be Joyful.”
Wynne has been paddling Oh Be Joyful since the mid- to late 1990s and has been a part of the race in some capacity off and on throughout the years. When he can’t make it, his buddy, G Gordo Liddy, fills his shoes to keep an eye on things.
“I’ve raced a few times but that’s not my scene really,” says Wynne. “I wasn’t the fastest but I was smiling the whole time. In the years I can help out with safety I hang out at the big drop and set up the Freedom Center. We’ll have three ropes in there pulling out the wounded warriors.”
With a copious winter and temperatures on the rise, Raymond expects levels to be mid to high come race day, which can be good or bad, depending on the kayaker.
“It depends on who you ask—everyone has their own preferred level,” explains Raymond. “I like when it’s high, nice and fluffy. Some people like it lower and slower. I’ve been keeping an eye on the snowpack and levels and I think it’s going to be at a great level in two weeks.”
Raymond has 17 signed up so far for the race and is hoping to get as many as 35 to 40 out on race day. The course itself is just over three-quarters of a mile long and takes racers between four and six minutes to make the run.
The course starts at the Wilderness Area sign and Raymond plans on having each participant run the creek twice, starting around 10 a.m., with the fastest time overall taking the title.
Information and registration can be found at cbchamber.com or facebook.com/TheOBJRace.
“Normally, peak flow is the first week of June but this isn’t normal,” adds Wynne. “I’m just gonna say it’s gonna be high at a minimum, but there’s nothing wrong with high. The heavy hitters are loving it and only the heavies are going to style it. It takes courage and you have to remain calm. Don’t pull your paddle stoke until you see the landing.”