GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - What a difference a year makes.
Last year, Aspen's Paul Tefft, organizer of the Whitewater Stand-Up Paddling (SUP) Championship, was worried about too much water for standup paddleboarders to safely surf the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park wave with Colorado River flows at the highest levels the park had ever seen: 26,000 cubic feet per second.
"I was freaking out, but it turned out epic," Tefft said.
At Sunday's conclusion to the championship - part of the fourth annual Rocky Mountain Surf Festival hosted at the park - Tefft had a far different concern. That is, how to give the 30-some stand-up paddlers who turned out for this year's festival a surf event when the flow numbers were much closer to 2,600 cfs.
Instead of the scheduled SUP-surf event, organizers opted for a "circleSUP" contest, where paddlers in three divisions (men's, women's and kids) were broken up into smaller groups of five paddlers or less for a short, sprint course routed around an upstream buoy, then through the park's wave with two more turns in an S-shape after the wave.
"It was like yesterday's SUPcross race, but it was a better course," said racer Mike Tavares. "There's more turns and it's more technical."
"We just wanted to make a cool course, and make it competitive and to keep it within their skill level," Tefft said. "We're tweaking it as we go."
One significant tweak included adding an additional lap to the downstream buoys for the afternoon's finals, forcing paddlers to weave a figure-eight in the turbulent waters below the wave.
In the most exciting heat of the day, the women's final, local Glenwood Springs paddler Brittany Parker - one of the few, if not only, locals participating in the weekend's three events - made a run to pass river-SUP competition stalwarts Jenny MacArthur and Nikki Gregg, winners of Saturday's SUPcross and downriver events, respectively.
After some board jostling and contact, Parker fell behind. After judges adjusted the times according to the contact, Parker finished in second place behind Gregg. The 22-year-old, who instructs SUP lessons for the Glenwood Adventure Co., also took third place in Saturday's SUPcross.
Aspen's Clark Tefft, 13, won the circleSUP kids division. And on the men's side, Dan Gavere beat out Tavares again, repeating the result of Saturday's heated SUPcross final.
"He ups the competition, makes it fierce," Tavares said of Gavere, who won the competition's men's overall title. Gregg won the women's overall title.
As surfers, kayakers and stand-up paddlers all traded rides in the river-right wave feature at the loosely structured Alpine Quest Sports River Surfing Expression Session, Parker noted how the sport of stand-up paddling is growing in a low-water year.
"It's just getting bigger and bigger each year, and more women are getting involved," Parker said.
Tefft agreed that the low-water conditions could be a blessing in disguise for the growth of standup river paddling: "One saving grace with this year, is that the wave is not as intimidating," he said. "So this doesn't look like some death-defying sport, and it's true, anyone can do it."
Full results will be posted on rockymountainsurffestival.com.