On June 19th, 1949 six boats full of intrepid travelers entered the Arkansas River in Salida, Colorado and headed down river to attempt a treacherous 57-mile- run to Canon City through the vertical cliffs of Royal Gorge. Two of 23 participants actually finished the entire length of the course….and so the infamous FIBARK (First in Boating on the Arkansas) began.

Since then FIBARK has grown into a monumental whitewater festival featuring kayak races, boat competitions, shenanigans, endless music, art, & showmanship that draws river rats, pro boaters, musicians and hooligans from around the world.

This past week, the 65th anniversary of FIBARK, the nation’s oldest whitewater festival took over Salida as people flocked to the shores and raging waters of the  mighty Arkansas.  Undeterred by fires, smoke, closed highways, thunderstorms, downpours of rain and ash and crowded streets, thousands descended on our tiny town to keep the spirit of FIBARK alive.

The Mighty Arkansas running high this season

World-class kayakers and boaters took part in a number of impressive competitions, but to me, the gems of a festival like this are the ridiculous events….the ones where the amateurs get to shine and the pros get to misbehave and have some fun.  One of these classics is the raft rodeo, where there are no rules and points are awarded for the silliest moves…. Check out this short video to get a feel for what was going on during a thunderstorm that dumped tons of rain on the river in a short amount of time.  Keep in mind the water is FREEZING!

And then, there’s the Hooligan race. Described by organizers as “controlled chaos,” this race, which draws so many spectators it’s often tough to even see, is open to anything that floats that ISN’T a boat. Victory goes to the last standing or floating.  Check out this video shot by Dave Kirchner.  It was madness, but they definitely had a ton of fun.

After a weekend of partying, whitewatering, eating, drinking and raging, this mountain town has just begun it’s return to normal. The streets are quiet once again. Restaurants are emptying out and we locals are crawling into bed to rest for a little while.  It was an amazing time and we thank everyone who made the journey down here to make this the best FIBARK yet.

If you missed it this year, be sure not to make that same mistake again. Start planning now – you have a whole year to create your floating apparatus and costumes so you too can be a hooligan.

For more info and to start planning for 2014 check here: http://fibark.net/

 IF