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The Diamond Anniversary of the First, Famous Whitewater FEtival

Salida’s signature summertime event, the nationally-recognized FIBArk Whitewater Festival, takes place in and around Salida June 15 through 18, 2023 heralding fine whitewater event competition. There are other athletic and fun events like the Raft Rodeo and foolish Hooligan Race downtown as well as musical events throughout. This, the 75th Diamond Anniversary promises to be one for the record books.

Paddleboarders and kayakers navigate a tight line past rocks in one of the earlier FIBArk competitions. Dan Smith photo

The First in Boating the Arkansas (FIBArk) event is historic, dating back to 1949 and drawing whitewater enthusiasts from around the country. They arrive to complete in kayaks, rafts, stand-up paddle boards, and hilarious homemade ‘vessels’ on the Arkansas River and at Whitewater Park.

Skateboard enthusiasts will even find a new competition this year at the skateboard facility adjacent to the Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center.

It’s sponsored by World Cup Skateboarding, the Chaffee County Community Foundation, the City of Salida, and FIBArk, with various levels competing for prizes.

How fast will the river run this year?

Generous snowfall this winter into spring is powering runoff that will find river flows well in excess of 1,500 cubic feet per second, organizers say, for the multiple classic and revised water events.

The most historic event, the downriver race, has paddlers competing in a 26­-mile marathon from just south of Buena Vista to Salida. Returning this year is the Colorado Cup Series, featuring professional racers from competitions including the BV Paddlefest and the GoPro Games from Vail.

Anything that floats your “boat”

The crowd-favorite event, the Hooligan Race, runs from just north of the Whitewater Park, finishing at the park. Crowds line the riverbanks cheering and jeering as they witness competitors literally try to keep it all together in the homemade craft. Anything that floats (and is not a boat) qualifies.

Winners of the 2021 Hooligan Race. Image by Brooke Gilmore.

Cleverly-designed (if not well-constructed) “craft” careen downriver, often leading to self-destruction as the occupants try to snag cash envelopes hung from lines across the river. While always a spectacle, safety is key and emergency crews are on hand to snag the unfortunate before they end up down in Cañon City.

Other non-water events drawing crowds include the FIBArk Parade downtown and the Tenderfoot Hill Climb with runners racing up and back down Salida’s main landmark; 600 feet of oxygen-depriving altitude gain, in mere minutes.

The Commodore for this three-quarters of a century mark event is Carey Hallett, who has been involved in directing entertainment for FIBArk for years. The fun kicks off Wednesday from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at High Side! Bar & Grill –  see you there!

Sponsors include:

  • Stoke Mountain Style Barbecue
  • City of Salida
  • Chaffee County
  • Salida Brewing Company
  • Badfish
  • Central Colorado Magazine
  • Faricy Boys
  • Salida Tenderfoot Health Collective
  • Adventa Credit Union
  • High Country Bank
  • American Whitewater
  • Pinon Vacation Rentals
  • Pizza Rio
  • Settings Rentals
  • Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Subculture Cyclery
  • Colorado Mountain College
  • Brady’s West
  • Roxy’s Bottle Shop
  • The Next Eddy
  • Alpha Dog Care
  • Woodland Motel
  • Canyon River instruction
  • Colorado Barkery
  • The Sundry
  • Greater Arkansas River Nature Association
  • Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center
  • ACA and
  • RMOC

For specifics on events, entertainment locations and times visit the FIBArk website

Featured image: Chaos often takes place at FIBArk events such as the Raft Rodeo. Dan Smith photo