Jul 26, 2014
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'Beautiful River, Beautiful Day -- Rave Reviews!"

More than 400 racers, 700 total attendees at Great Russian River Race.

 

An amazing 407 canoe, kayak and stand-up paddleboard racers took to the river Saturday for the

"That's about 70 percent more than last year, when we had 251 racers," said Russian Riverkeeper Don McEnhill, one of the organizers. "We had 35 sign up first thing this morning."

McEnhill said a buzz spread in the paddling community after the inaugural event last year. 

"What this race is really about is building community around the Russian River," said race director Tony Hansen. "This is a world-class river; it's one of the best to paddle in the world."

Hansen said he was thrilled with the day's success.

"Beautiful river, beautiful day -- and rave reviews from our sponsors," Hansen said.

At least 70 percent of the racers came from out of Sonoma County and from places like Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Diego and even the East Coast, McEnhill said.

"We came to visit my sister, who lives in Berkeley," said Sean and Nate Conroy of Maine. "She and her husband were in the race, so she signed us up."

Sean Conroy, 24, and Nate Conroy, 27, won second place in the men's doubles for the 5-mile canoe race.

"We had a big hunkin' canoe," Nate Conroy said.

Sadly, the Conroy brothers missed out on the "Best Dressed" award, even though they were decked out smartly with Superman bottoms and Melvin cartoon sleeveless tops.

"Best Dressed" honors went instead to Beth Rypins of Napa, who also won overall first place in the 5-mile kayak race. Rypins, a former professional river rafter and paddler for 25 years, said she had been off the river for a while, but when she heard about last year's event, she decided to dust off her paddling chops and jump in.

"Since I had the advantage of experience, I decided to start way back and work myself up, picking people off,"  said Rypins, who sported a blonde wig, bikini and pasted on tatoos. "I had to work really hard to pick people off, but I did it."

To see all the race results, click on the attached PDF. Tune back in later in the weekend for full photo coverage of the races.

Colin Grill and Tyler Norris of Healdsburg won first place, recreational doubles in the 15 mile canoe race paddling a 1971 Old Town Canoe called "The Tripper."

"We were persistent," said Norris. "We didn't stop -- my arms hurt."

They both took home backpacks equipped with a water feeder from Camelbak, one of the major race sponsors. And of course, a bottle of wine.

"I watched the race the first year," Grill said. "This year, I said, 'I gotta do it.'"

First place in the professional doubles for men went to Shaun Kajiwara and Graham Weerts who both work for Jackson Family Wines, a gold race sponsor. Kajiwara, assistant vineyard manager in Napa, and Weerts, winemaker in Healdsburg, paddled a kayak.

"We had a very tippy boat," Kajiwara said.

Among other major sponsors were Marmot and

"Our sponsors really stepped up," McEnhill said. He said he expects to give about $5,000 of the proceeds to Sonoma County Regional Parks for helping to maintain the compared to about $3,800 in proceeds last year for the park.

"This is a really important beach," he said. "It's one of only two beaches on the whole river that has a lifeguard, and so allows people to have fun on the river and be safe."

The balance of the proceeds go toward river education programs, such as teaching high school students about urban stormwater pollution.

"The turnout today was really great," McEnhill said. "It really speaks to what an awesome resource we have here.

"So many people don't have access to a great river like this," McEnhill said.

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