CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Kayakers and canoers of all ages glided across the water throughout the day on Sunday, racing in the 2021 Rivanna River Race.
Last year was the first and only time the Rivanna River Race has been cancelled due to COVID-19. Now, this year, it’s back. Competitors were eager to return to the water.
Lisa Wittenborn, the Rivanna Conservation Alliance’s Executive Director, said the race is Albemarle County’s first special event permitted since the start of the pandemic.
“It’s always fun to get people out on the water. It’s a really fun event. It’s one we look forward to all year, so we’re happy to be back and the paddlers are happy to be back and able to do this again,” Wittenborn said.
The trek is almost seven miles long, starting a Brook Hill River Park off Route 29, and ending at the Rivanna River Company.
Some take it slow, while others, like the Kirk and Kade Havens, a father-son canoe duo, rush to get to the finish line. They have river racing in their blood.
“My grandfather was undefeated and untied and selected to go to the 1924 Olympic games in Paris. He decided not to go because his son Frank was going to be born while he was over there. So he stayed home to witness the birth of Frank,” Kirk Havens explained. “Frank is my uncle and my father also was an Olympic paddler. Frank went back and competed in the 1952 Olympics and won the gold medal in the event that my grandfather would’ve won, had he gone.”
Ed Sharp was one of the race’s oldest competitors. At 81-years-old, he was one of the first to cross the finish line in just over an hour.
“I did my first national race in 1992 at Nantahala River and I think I maybe missed one year or two years since then,” Sharp said. “I think I won my division maybe 10 times or so.”
After a year without real racing, Sharp said he’s excited to get back on the water.
“Last year was a bummer. That was the longest year of my life, I think. Probably the worst. Just nothing to do,” Sharp said. “You go paddle, you say, there’s going to be a race next week, and you just can’t get excited about it. So you’re just putting in time but not getting any better. I’m looking forward to this year.”
No matter if you’re a pro-paddler, or someone just wants to get on the water, the Havens and Sharp are encouraging anyone to get out on the river.
“It’s a race that anybody can do. It’s fun and families can do it. You don’t have to go hard. Just going down the river, it’s just a beautiful river and a beautiful place,” Kirk Havens said. “Especially if you want to get out of quarantine, it’ll give you something to do,” said his son, Kade.
“The river is always here. It’s always around for us as a wonderful place to be and enjoy,” Wittenborn said.