Summit County local earns invite to World Rafting Championships in Indonesia | SummitDaily.com

Summit County local earns invite to World Rafting Championships in Indonesia

Just 24 leg-cramping hours from now, longtime Summit County resident Koreen Padjen will step off the trans-Atlantic flight from New York City to Jakarta, Indonesia to spend early December rafting a subtropical river.

But the river is not just any river, and it's far from just another float trip. She joins seven elite members with the USA Women's Raft Team (aka The Red Ladies) for the 2015 World Rafting Championships on the Citarik River, found just outside the city of Sukabumi in West Java.

It's a fast-running section of whitewater that none of the rafters have paddled before, but it hardly matters. From what she and the team have seen on video, it looks similar to another river found right in their backyard: The mighty Arkansas.

"It's not like the biggest stretches on the Arkansas, but it has sustained, technical whitewater," Padjen said. "That's the fun part about it, getting to read and run whitewater for the first time. It's a way to challenge yourself, put your skills to the test."

Most of the USA team is based right here in Colorado, including team captain Julie Sutton of Salida. The funky little mountain town, located on the banks of the Arkansas River, is considered the epicenter of stateside rafting. When Sutton needed a veteran rafter to act as team manager, she called her good friend Padjen.

She has been a raft guide on the Arkansas for about 13 years and recently moved to West Virginia, home of the Gauley River. For the first time since she was a teen, she'll spend winter away from Summit and the Kickapoo Tavern, where she worked as a server during ski season. It's a change of pace, sure, but she'll survive.

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"I'll get a chance to see how competitive everyone is, just see how everything operates," she said about her first trip to Worlds and Indonesia. "I'm also excited about the ruins and the historical aspects, maybe see a volcano since there are so many there. After the Worlds, a couple of us might even head out and try to run another river."

Worlds on the Citarik

Here's how the Worlds work: Several hundred rafters from across the globe get together in teams of six. The teams have about four days to run the river and plan the best line. Once competition begins, the USA team faces more than 20 other countries in four disciplines: Slalom, sprint, downriver and head-to-head. Like all races, the fastest and cleanest runs win. Events last anywhere from several minutes for a sprint to one hour for downriver courses.

As team manager, Padjen is the glue that holds the team together. She'll make sure everyone has the right gear and is in the right place at the right time.

"I just pretty much go where they need me," she said. "I get to be their vocal coach, the person who can help them focus on what needs to be done to do their best."

There's also a possibility she will get on the water. If one of the six starting rafters can't compete, she can act as an alternate. It's why Sutton chose her — she needed people with race experience to travel with the team. The pool of qualified candidates is still pretty slim, but the veteran rafter says her sport is slowly gaining traction every season.

"It's still in the young stages, but there is a lot of growing interest in rafting," Padjen said. "The younger generation is focused on these newer, high-intensity sports and competitions. When people have more access to video and everything else it can be more well known. Hopefully this (the Worlds) will bring more exposure to it."