Summit County Ark Sharks win R4 Nationals rafting comp, now headed to 2018 Worlds | SummitDaily.com

Summit County Ark Sharks win R4 Nationals rafting comp, now headed to 2018 Worlds

John LaConte
The Vail Daily

OKLAHOMA CITY — It's official: Colorado is home to the best boaters in the United States.

The Vail-based Sage Outdoor Adventure whitewater rafting team finished second this past Sunday at the four-person national championships in Oklahoma City. The crew was bested by the Summit County-based Ark Sharks who, in winning the open division, will represent the U.S. at the 2018 World Championships in Argentina. Eagle County will also be represented at the 2018 World Championships by the local 9 Ball Masters, who won the masters division in Oklahoma City on Sunday.

Sage captain Cole Bangert said both the 9 Ball Masters and the Ark Sharks proved to be a tremendous help to Sage's young team.

"A lot of the guys that have been racing boats for a long time were really helpful and really encouraging," Bangert said. "It was a good vibe."

“I love competing at this level because everybody takes it so seriously. I’ve been blessed with a few opportunities to travel to some great places and compete at a high level. Now I’m looking at it where it’s definitely something I want to keep doing as long as I can.”Kyle “Kix” NixSage Outdoor Adventure whitewater rafting team member

The competition took place during three days when U19, U23, open and masters division competitors battled it out at the man-made Riversport Rapids whitewater park. The rafters competed in four races total — a time trial, a slalom, a head-to-head and a downriver race.

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SLALOM SKILLS

Bangert said Sage was best able to display its paddling skills in the slalom portion of the competition, where there were 13 gates through which the teams had to maneuver their boats. All four team members' heads must be between the gates, and missing a gate resulted in a 50-second penalty. Each team got two chances to put down its best run in the slalom, and while teams weren't allowed to practice with gates, they were permitted some practice time in the general arena before the start of the event.

"The practice time definitely helped us," Bangert said. "You didn't know where the gates would be, but you could kind of guess, and kind of practice catching eddies and things in those areas."

The Ark Sharks were delayed in their arrival to the park and missed out on the practice time.

"The Ark Sharks came into it pretty much blind, and they flipped their boat on their first run," Bangert said. "So, we were way ahead after the first run, because we ran it basically clean; I think we were the only team to clear all 13 gates."

In the second run, the Ark Sharks "regrouped and beat us, with no practice," Bangert said. "It was pretty impressive to see."

Regardless, "the slalom takes finesse, not just raw power," Bangert said. "Some of the more experienced guys out there were telling us it was the hardest slalom they ever competed in, so we were happy to be in the lead going into the second run."

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

The Sage team is relatively new to the competition scene, dipping its paddles in the water last season at the six-person national championships, which were held in Salida last June. The paddlers came away from that competition with a third-place podium finish and realized they might have a future in the competitive-rafting game, Bangert said.

Since then, Sage paddler Kyle "Kix" Nix has been recruited onto the national team for competitors under 23, where he competed at the World Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, last fall. He will also compete in the U23 division at the six-person World Championships in Japan in October. He'll be joined by a non-masters version of the Eagle County-based 9 Ball team, which last year qualified to represent the U.S. in the 2017 six-person World Championships open division.

Four years ago, Nix was afraid of whitewater sports, and came out to Colorado to face his fears. He became a guide at Sage Outdoor Adventures and has never looked back. Now joined by Bangert, brothers Wes and Danny Zittel and alternate Bay Stephens, the Sage team says it intends to be a threat at every whitewater competition within shooting distance. Next up, they'll race in the CKS Paddlefest in Buena Vista this weekend, followed by the GoPro Mountain Games and FIBArk festivals in June.

"I love competing at this level because everybody takes it so seriously," Nix said. "I've been blessed with a few opportunities to travel to some great places and compete at a high level. Now I'm looking at it where it's definitely something I want to keep doing as long as I can."

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