The thrill of riding Reno’s rapids

by Jon Surmacz on April 29, 2005

Rushing rapids cascade down the Sierra Nevadas and the Rockies every year as surely as robins sing and blossoms bloom. A banner year of snowfalls in the towering peaks surrounding Lake Tahoe will ensure that some of the best whitewater conditions in decades are coursing through the center of Reno, Nev., for the annual Reno River Festival.

This Nevada city, built astride the Truckee River, hosts the festival from May 12 to 15 with one of America’s biggest celebrations of paddle sports and the only such gala presented in the midst of a major metropolitan area. Whitewater competitions, clinics, displays and demonstrations will take place from morning until evening from Friday through Sunday.

The venue is a unique, mid-city whitewater park that Reno created two years ago as the region developed their Adventure Place theme. The whitewater park, constructed with more than 7,000 tons of smooth river boulders, stretches more than a mile and features drops, waves, rapids and holes that will test even the best of whitewater experts. It even includes an international whitewater world cup standard course.

The creme-de-la-creme of whitewater sports will be featured in competitions such as Kayak freestyle, river races and kayak slalom.

Reno is the center of the kayaking universe during the festival. Competitors include Olympic medalists and U.S. Olympic team members, the Canadian kayaking champion, the junior freestyle world champion and other U.S. freestyle team members.

This cadre of whitewater Olympic medalists, champions, experts and top freestyle contenders will also be conducting weekend clinics for locals and visitors. These workshops offer participants a rare opportunity to learn from top paddle experts. Clinic students can select from playboating courses and whitewater slalom lessons to underwater roll techniques and eddy sessions.

The riverwalk, the amphitheater, nearby streets and bridges alongside and across the Truckee will be packed with food vendors, sidewalk and riverside cafes, displays, concerts and thousands of spectators. All the events take place within easy walking distance from a reborn downtown Reno, with thousands of hotel rooms and scores of new, trendy restaurants and lively cafes.

The renaissance of downtown Reno, for anyone who has visited as recently a couple of years ago, is breathtaking. Java Jungle and Dreamers cafes have patios and picture windows that overlook the river, Beaujolais and 4th Street Bistros prepare gourmet fare, Liquid Lounge and EJ’s Jazz Cafe mix drinks as patrons watch their mixologists at work. Santa Fe and Louis’ Basque Corner serve hearty Basque dinners, family style.

And yes, the giant casinos still flash neon, offer games of chance and dozens of restaurants ranging from fine dining to all-you-can-eat buffets.

Reno has a surprising amount of cultural offerings, apart from the ringing slot machines and nightclub acts. The Nevada Museum of Art displays changing top collections from around the world as well as maintaining a permanent collection of art depicting life in the West. The Reno Philharmonic and Chamber Orchestra play here on many weekends. The Arts District has galleries filled with modern, tradition, landscape, Native America and western art as well as local sculpture.

Reno offers a unique blend of other adventure activities, besides whitewater kayaking, less than an hour away.

Golfers can choose from 50 courses only minutes from downtown’s glittering neon lights. Skiers and snowboarders ride to the still-snow-covered peaks surrounding Lake Tahoe — Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are both still filled with skiers and snowboarders.

Fishermen head to Pyramid Lake and cast in the Truckee River. Mountain bikers take to the Truckee River trail, the Virginia Range trail and peddle around scenic Lake Tahoe. Hikers tread along thousands of paths in the surrounding mountain foothills.

This is one of the few parts of the country where it can be honestly said that there’s an adventure for everyone.

Charles Leocha

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