By Shelby Cain
The fifteenth annual Fernie Raft Race was held Wednesday, June 18. I went to witness it.
As I rounded the corner to the Coal Creek boat launch, the rain pelting my truck and the muddy river raging before me, I didn’t expect to see many people crazy enough to actually go rafting. Boy, was I wrong. Turns out Fernie has lots of people who were ready to get crazy. Or, more accurately, ready to have a lot of fun.
Sixteen teams with over 100 paddlers stood before me, dressed in everything from giant bird heads to formal wear. The mood was electric. Blair Craig of Canyon Raft Company, one of the many hard working organizers of the event, got the participants loaded onto buses for a trip above the North Fernie Bridge, where the race begins. I followed behind and stood on the soggy riverbank with other curious observers, waiting for the action to start. A giant tree floated by. We waited. At last, distant yelling could be heard over the roar of the river. They were coming.
The chocolate brown horizon was broken up with 16 blasts of colour, their arms moving like hummingbird wings. As they passed under the bridge, the audience on the banks erupted in cheers. The boats were a blur, and then they were gone.
I sprinted for my truck and made it to the West Fernie Bridge just in time to catch the winners, Defending Champions, cross the aqua finish line. It was awesome.
The purpose of the race has always been to raise money for the Fernie River Society and its initiatives. For the last three years, proceeds have gone specifically to fund the Fernie Whitewater Park, an idea decades old which will become a reality in the near future. The park will allow people from Fernie and all over the world to surf and kayak on unique features just steps from town.
Dan Savage, one of the dedicated members of the group working to bring the park to Fernie, said, “The whitewater park is in the permitting phase and we are aiming to be shovel ready in 2015.” Yet another draw to bring outdoor enthusiasts to our amazing town.
After the last of the boats passed under the bridge I went down to the boat launch and watched everyone make their way to the after-party. A few were cold. I saw a pretty soggy clown. But I didn’t see one face without a giant smile on it.
First place – Henry’s Defending Champions,
Best dressed – Three Beavers
Royal sportsman – Neons You Want To Be On