Raft racing, through the International Rafting Federation, is as much about promoting awareness about the value of wild rivers all over the world, as it is about competition.”Sue Norman, Coach California Development Team
The 2019 r4 competition saw two under 19 team’s fiercely battling on the river and displaying incredible sportmanship off. This expansion of raft racing in the US has a lot to do with Sue Norman and the families of Califoria’s first youth team.
Sue Norman is no stranger to competition. She was on the women’s USA team from 1989-2000 where she, along with her teammates, grabbed several gold medals.
After recently retiring from the US Forest Service as a Forest Hydrologist and her 2018 masters women’s team appearance with the Women’s team from California, Norman took all of her knowledge and expertise and poured it into the creation of a youth team based in her home state. Norman wanted to share how empowering raft racing can be for young people, especially for young women.
“I was so inspired by the junior teams I saw in Argentina, I decided to give back to the rafting community that supported me, by helping to develop junior raft teams from the US. There were no U19 teams representing the US in Argentina. “
Norman has served as a mentor for young people in paddling through the Truckee River Source to Sea project and the Coloma Lotus Junior Whitewater Team. It was through these program’s social media that she was able to reach out to potential raft racing paddlers.
With an intention to connect with boating families who had already established a paddling background with their family, the seeds were planted for teams to start training. Norman suggests that for the under 19 category, it is best to have that already established mentality as well as easy access to Class II whitewater and a slalom course.
In an effort to create longevity for California’s raft racing future, Norman emphasizes that the team is a Development Team and she plans to build on foundations created by the families
She said, “ I am focusing on creating a long term program to get young people already involved in either whitewater kayaking or rafting with their families, introduced to competitive raft racing. The purpose of the program will be to develop paddling skills, physical fitness, and teamwork, in the unique setting of a whitewater river”.
Friendship, community and confidence are the foundational ideas for the development teams. Her plans are to continue to build the program from the five young women she started with last year, to 7 person U19 and U23 ladies teams this year.
“Hopefully we can create a program that sustains interest to continue for many years to come, for both girls and boys.”
Norman said that the relationships built through rafting tend to be very strong and long lasting. “I believe the whitewater rafting community is unique, maybe because it is still small compared to other outdoor sports.”
She feels that introducing youth to raft racing “builds self-confidence, grows advanced whitewater skills in a safe environment, and is an excellent laboratory for learning teamwork.”
While working with California’s first under 19 team, Norman saw incredible growth with team paddling skills, particularly from her steerswomen. She found observing this development of problem solving for racing strategies was most rewarding. She said that what makes raft racing’s teamwork so unique and special is that it requires communication and working together in a dynamic environment.
“Racing a raft through even class II whitewater requires a tremendous amount of communication and skill development.”
In order to train for the US National race, Norman’s team did flatwater training on a local lake, and river training on class 2 sections of the Truckee and the South Fork of the American.
“We also trained on a permanent slalom course set up on Class 2 whitewater on the South Fork of the American. We trained one to two days a week for about two months.” Since the girls do other sports, they were used to having intense training and that was how Norman planned the raft racing workouts to be.
Norman made safety a priority as the team was learning to read and run whitewater. She said, “Whenever we were running the river we always made sure we had at least two adult safety kayakers with the team. We usually had more.” The team also practised flip training on a flatwater pond. On occasion the team paddled Class III whitewater for fun with their families.
The ladies made their first competitive appearance in Colorado in June. They claimed first place in the slalom event. This gave them a points lead going into the downriver race. After several lead changes throughout the race, the team finished in 2nd place- narrowly missing overall victory.
Norman views raft racing as a way that youth can spend time on the river that will instill a life-long love of adventure and a passion for river conservation. But, she is most proud of her team for their hard work and camaraderie established during competition.
Raft racing, she said, “provides a vehicle for connecting with a national and international river tribe. Raft racing, through the International Rafting Federation, is as much about promoting awareness about the value of wild rivers all over the world, as it is about competition.”
If you’d like to start a team or join the California Development team, connect with Sue through the Coloma Lotus Junior Whitewater Team Facebook page, and look for posts to respond to about this year’s program, or submit a post about your interest.