Running the Rapids – Rain or Shine to the Finish Line

By Rosalie Triolo

The Great Smith River Canoe and Kayak Race

The Great Smith River Canoe and Kayak Race

Spills, chills and thrills. Smiles and laughter. Race participants paddling their canoes and kayaks keep “Rollin on the River.” The Great Smith River Canoe and Kayak Race, that is. The race, sponsored and organized by the Lions Club of Wolfeboro, is held each year the Saturday before Memorial Day. This year’s event is the 45th year running, and in keeping with tradition, the race will take place on Saturday, May 18. 

As in any race, there are pre-race preparations. Lions Club member since 1989, Roger Murray III, organizer and chair of the committee for “The Great Smith River Canoe and Kayak Race,” pointed out the tasks required of committee members to ensure a safe and successful race. The necessary permits must be acquired. Before opening the dam there is a careful inspection of the race course, which involves looking for obstacles that potentially may cause mishaps to the canoers and kayakers. Arrangements are made for medical aid and an ambulance to stand by on sight. Murray went on to describe the route of the course and the places participants will have to portage canoes and kayaks. “The four-mile race begins at Allen Albee Beach located in Wolfeboro on the north side of Lake Wentworth. Participants paddle across Lake Wentworth and on to the Smith River. At the Smith River canoes and kayaks are maneuvered under the Whiten Neck Bridge and come out onto Crescent Lake, continuing down the length of the lake to the dam. At Crescent Lake dam, a short portage is required to the right of the dam and on the participants charge through the one-quarter mile of Class II rapids on the Smith River.” (In an article written by L. Herbert Gordon for, Class II rapids are “Moderate. Medium-quick water; rapids with regular waves; clear and open passages between rocks and ledges. Maneuvering required.”) There is another portage area in Wolfeboro Falls and then into Back Bay and on to the finish line at the Town Docks in Wolfeboro on Lake Winnipesaukee.  

Families, friends or those of us who want to vicariously experience the thrill of shooting the rapids are welcomed to stand on shore to watch, cheer and encourage the participants onward. An exciting experience for observers is the sight of canoes and kayaks swerving down, around and through the rapids. Not often, but occasionally, where there is a bend in the river, participants quickly maneuver their canoes or kayaks to avoid collisions with other canoes or kayaks, or from bumping into the shore as they go into the turn. Two of the best places to watch the race is at Crescent Lake dam or the finish line. 

For the participants, in addition to having great fun, the race is a test of their expertise, stamina and spirit of adventure. In years past, some creative participants have worn horned Viking helmets, a bear’s head and even yellow-billed duck hats as they shoot the rapids!

John Askew, a 20-year member of the Lions Club, sits on the committee and is the official starter of “The Great Smith River Canoe and Kayak Race.” From novice to expert there are 19 classes of racers who are sent off at five-minute intervals. Paddlers range from Old Timers, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Father/Daughter, Father/Son, or families and all are welcome. Official Race Rules require participants to inspect and remove from the bottom of their canoes or kayaks any plants, animals or algae which may have become attached.  

The Canoe Racing Classes are: Long (any length to a maximum of 18’6”); Two Women (Any length to a maximum of 18’6”); Long (Sawyer Cruiser, Mohawk Jensen & Whitewater boats); Mixed (Male and Female - Any length to a maximum of 18’6”); Short (Any length canoe up to 16’6”); Family (One paddler 15 or under and the other paddler 30 or over, 18’6” max.) and Single (Any length canoe up to 18’6”).  

Canoe Conventional Classes: These are non-racing canoes, not over 18’ with a minimum width of 34”. Two Men; Mixed (Male and Female); Family (One paddler 15 or under and the other paddler 30 or over); Boys (Both 15 or under); Two Women; Two Girls (Both 15 or under); Novice (Anyone who has not placed 1st, 2nd or 3rd in any organized canoe race may enter this class.); Business (Owners or employees of a business); Old Timers (Combined age of paddlers must be 100 years).

KAYAK CLASSES: Kayak (Single Female Paddler); Kayak (Single Male Paddler); Kayak (2 Paddlers). 

The course should take approximately 30 to 60 minutes to complete and results are computed immediately. Prizes will go to the first three finishers in each of the classes. 

The first 50 participants to register receive free T-shirts donated by Wolfeboro Oil Co. The registration fee is $20.00 per paddler and the starting time is 1:15 pm. Registration entry forms and a list of the official rules are available at the Wolfeboro Chamber of Commerce located in the old train station on Railroad Avenue. Participants may register on race day from 10 am to 12:45 pm. The day of the race there will be a 50/50 raffle.

With the proceeds derived from the race, the Lions Club offers six $500 book scholarships to deserving Kingswood High School seniors and the same to two local students who attend Brewster Academy. The Lions Club also offers two $500 for book scholarships to two Leos (young Lions) at Kingswood. An additional $1000 scholarship is awarded to a student, who is an accomplished musician, in honor of the late Lion, Doug Cady, who was instrumental in the creation of the Cate Park Bandstand, and who was himself an accomplished musician.

For additional information on the race, call Roger Murray at 603-569-5454.

Video from the 2019 Great Smith River Canoe & Kayak Race!

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