The 4th annual Camp Cup Challenge brought 100+ campers from summer camps all over western North Carolina. And for the fourth year in a row it was a wild success!!! In fact, the Challenge is such an awesome concept that the format has spread to create other “challenges“ on the Nantahala with equally enthusiastic success.
The Camp Cup Challenge was rejuvenated by Sean and Kristin Beirle [ of the Alzar School], with the goal of promoting social networking and fun non-competitive whitewater event for kids. All the kids that participate are involved in the paddling program at their respective camps. The Camp Cup Challenge is for many of the campers the highlight of their summer. One take on it is because it “challenges” these campers on a whole new level.
All summer campers work on skills on the lake, then in canoes (a number of the participating camps require that campers learn hard skills in tandem canoes, then solo canoes…before kayaking—even if the camper arrives as an experienced kayaker), then in kayaks. The Nantahala Falls is one of the numero uno highlights of summer camp. And one of the two events of the Camp Cup Challenge is a downriver timed run through the Falls. The second event of the Challenge is a timed run through slalom gates.
What makes the Camp Cup Challenge so impressive is not just the boating end of things, but the opportunity created for campers to network. The idea behind networking is that all summer campers work on their whitewater skills. Then they head home. And without any networking resources they never again get in a canoe/kayak until next year’s camp session. The CCC provides the opportunity to meet others from home, hopefully encouraging year-round paddling.
Still, it is the river experience that elicits the “this is the most fun thing I do all summer” statement. Running Nantahala Falls is a huge highlight for campers. Typically during camp, running Nantahala Falls rapid—like any more-difficult rapid, is staged so that the counselors run at the front of the group and behind the group as lead and sweep boats. Leading the way down the rapid so that boaters have someone to follow; sweeping so that if anyone messes up there is a counselor there to give support. At the Camp Cup Challenge each camper now runs the Falls on their own. The counselors are at the bottom of the Falls with throw ropes and kayak support. This is a big step for many of the participants who are used to just following someone through the rapid.
When each camper hears “Go” it means running the Falls independently, while being timed. It means having a good line, or messing up a bit and having to get back in the boat to finish (there is no penalty for messing up as each participant is encouraged to get back in the boat and make it to the finish line). No quitters in this group!! It is inspiring.
In addition to running the Falls is the slalom event. Trying to maneuver through slalom gates is a first for many of the campers. There is tons of support from former champions like Lecky and Pablo and Kristin…but each camper suddenly finds themselves having to try and maneuver through slalom gates on the Nantahala River in a friendly competition.
The Camp Cup Challenge is character building. Campers must carry their boats up to the Falls and down to the gates; they have to be there on time; they have to load/unload their own gear off the trailers;. The Camp Cup Challenge is about having fun, friendly competition (which is often non-existent for kids involved in sports), whitewater fun and at the end of the day, prizes–not for winning, but for being a participant in the event.
If there was ever an example of a competition where everyone finishes up a winner – it is the Camp Cup Challenge!