California Poppies give us their WRC roundup

by Chloe Tippett

“THE FORMATION OF THE CALIFORNIA POPPIES”

I GREW UP on the river. My parents met 30 years ago as guides and raised me and my brother as whitewater kids. Today, our family owns a rafting company, Coloma Lotus Whitewater. Growing up I had a vague awareness that raft racing was a thing. One of my mother’s guide school instructors had been a founder of Project RAFT and several of my parents’ rafting friends had been on teams that had competed. But I still didn’t know much about it. Truth is, I had always been more interested in kayaking.

As I entered high school, I continued to spend time on the river. My parents encouraged me to join raft racing practices led by Sue Norman. In 2020 and 2021, the US Rafting Nationals were cancelled due to Covid, as were the World Rafting Championships, so opportunities to compete were nonexistent anyway.

Despite that, a core group of us (which still included one of the original girls) was having fun and decided to get more serious about training regularly on the water and in the gym. Together we formed the California Poppies U19 Women Raft Racing Team.

We were thrilled to be chosen as the USA U19 Women’s team. We would be the first youth team ever to represent the USA in international rafting competition.

Before we knew it, it was late May, and we were off to spend two weeks in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think I can speak for all of us in saying that it was the experience of a lifetime.

THE WORLD RAFTING CHAMPIONSHIPS IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA.

The IRF’s event is very much a World Championship. It turned out to be a much bigger, more elite event than I ever could have imagined.

We had had a small glimpse into the seriousness of the event two weeks before leaving when we found out that, as athletes, we were subject to the World Anti-Doping Code and had to take an extensive course, submit our compliance, and apply for exemptions. But it still didn’t really sink in until we arrived in Sarajevo. We were surprised to see billboards for the races at the airport, along the roads, and in various towns.

It then really hit us at registration in Banja Luka. There were 61 teams from 22 countries registered. Many had elaborate, matching uniforms, and some, like the Czech teams, even came in vehicles wrapped with their logos, loaded with gear. Photographers took team photos; we were given athlete credentials as well as race bibs with our race category and country flag. In getting to know other teams, we learned that many were Olympic-level athletes and all had extensive whitewater experience as competitive raft racers, slalom kayakers and canoeists, and Class V river guides. We also discovered that we were the youngest team.

We were amazed by the Opening Ceremony and had so much fun participating in the boat parade. At night, in front of a large crowd, each country’s teams paddled past the Kastle Fortress, which was lit up. There were speeches as expected, but these athletes are rafters. And no matter where they are from, or how competitive they are, or how formal the occasion, they are going to make it fun and have a good time. We became a large flotilla, with athletes dancing on rafts as music played and fireworks went off.

SPRINT AND H2H

We nailed our line in the Sprint and won by a significant margin. The USA Open Women also won in Sprint that day, so it was cool to celebrate together. In Head2Head, we established an early lead, but then got pushed and bumped the rock, just barely missing gold.

SLALOM

Next up was Slalom, which proved to be a challenge. Slalom is considered the main event and is televised live. The Open teams compete at night under lights. As a youth team, we were scheduled earlier in the day. Actually, we were slated to go literally first, which is a tough position to be in. Our first run was disappointing. Our second run was smoother but still far from clean. The Czech U19 Women didn’t have a clean run either, but they looked solid. Their C1 slalom experience showed, and they definitely deserved the win. We spent the rest of the day and evening watching the other teams. Team after team struggled.

DOWNRIVER

We spent the next two days at Tara Raft Camp in the Perucica Rainforest. The Tara River is so blue that you can see right through it and so clean that we drank straight from it.

CLOSING CEREMONY

The last night of the World Championships was probably the best. Closing Ceremonies in Foca was a party that none of us will ever forget. We congratulated our Czech competitors (Czech teams won Overall Gold in 5 categories), cheered for the USA Open Women (they won Overall Silver in the Open Women’s category), and received our Youth Women Overall Silver medals and trophy. We also thanked our coach for creating this opportunity for us, met with the US Ambassador, and danced with the many friends we had made along the way.

Over the two weeks we spent in Bosnia and Herzegovina and through every interaction I had with officials, athletes, and locals, I both found and believe that I also furthered the unity that the World Rafting Championships are intended to foster. I truly became part of the global river family.

FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES FOR RAFT RACING TEAMS

Even if you think of yourself as a kayaker, like I do, and even if you previously thought of rafting as a recreational activity, like I did, it’s worth getting involved in raft racing.

After my experience at the World Rafting Championships, my parents formed a U14 raft racing team for my brother and his friends. Many other families also reached out considering doing the same. When asked for my perspective, I shared the following:

  1. Although raft racing is surprisingly competitive and athletically demanding, it is also really fun. The camaraderie between teams definitely stands out.
  2. Raft racing provides unique travel opportunities. Competitions are held in incredible places and as an athlete you get to experience those places as part of the river community, rather than just as a tourist.
  3. Raft racing develops what my parents like to call “life skills”: teamwork and sportsmanship, obviously, but also public speaking, interviewing, writing, fundraising, planning, etc. It also provides opportunities to connect with all sorts of people from all around the world.

My hope is that our team’s experience at the World Rafting Championships will encourage whitewater boaters of all types and from around the country to support the USRA’s efforts to further develop youth participation in raft racing. I also hope that we will have inspired kids, teens, adults, and masters alike to want to represent the United States in future international rafting competitions.”

Chloe Tippett is a 15-year-old sophomore at North Tahoe High School, a USRA Youth Board Member, and a California Poppies U19 Raft Racing Team Member.

Full article in the American Whitewater journal  issue 5 2022 on page 21.

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