Winning the event keeps world-class athletes training in the Nantahala Gorge for the next two years. It also changes the spotlight to a new discipline after years of focusing on freestyle. Wildwater racing, one of nine officially-recognized disciplines, is paddling's equivalent of downhill skiing; it's just a straight ahead race. There aren't any gates like in slalom paddling, and no style points like in freestyle.
Wildwater races feature two different race courses. The "sprint" course is usually 500 to 750 meters. This exciting race usually takes less than two minutes. These results from last year's junior worlds race in Lofer, Austria show times as low as 1:11 in the finals.
Video of a sprint run from the 2011 Wildwater World Championships in Augsburg.
These close finishes point to exciting spectator events. The entire length of the course will likely be visible from the Founder's Bridge at NOC, and the finish at the 2013 Wave will be very intense, with some racers separated by only tenths of seconds.
The "classic" course is the long-distance counterpart to the sprint. This course is usually around five miles. Last year competitors finished the course in about 10 to 13 minutes in the individual race, and the finishes in the men's finals was still only separated by four seconds. The classic also features an interesting team event where three boats have to paddle together; the best time of the three boat teams wins.
And for those just looking to get involved, the Nantahala Racing Club will be offering wildwater focused programming for youth and casual paddling sessions on the Nantahala. Stay tuned to the NRC website for more information on wildwater racing, as well as freestyle and slalom events.