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Ammons compares the broader impacts of man-made features like


Missoula’s Brennan’s Wave to the changes sport climbing imposed on alpinism. “It changes the way you look at fun,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but you don’t necessarily encourage attitudes that lead to river conservation, for example. “ “An old climbing buddy of mine who did many hard first ascents in the


Canadian Rockies said after the sport climbing craze came of age he ac- tually met fewer people in the backcountry,” adds Ammons. “The people who want to sport climb are different from the people who are motivated to climb big routes. The same is true for whitewater parks.” French slalom kayaker, steep creeker and freestyle phenom Nouria


Newman has spent a great deal of time competing on artificial whitewa- ter courses. She agrees with Ammons that the experience is hardly analo- gous to being on a wild river. A park boater will never learn how to juggle the risk of strainers, hydraulics and undercut rocks with the reward of making a first descent. They will never know the struggle of hiking out of an unrunnable canyon, and never understand the camaraderie of placing safety in the hands of a crew of friends. “When you paddle on an artificial course, it is basically just like any oth-


er sport,” says Newman. “You go to the venue, you use the change room and you have a one-hour session. It’s just like renting a tennis court. “If you only paddle artificial courses, you don’t learn to respect the


river,” she continues. “You don’t feel humble and aware of the natural environment around you. The rocks aren’t sharp, there’s no wood in the water and there are no places where you could get pinned. It’s like going to Disneyland.”


Mike Knopp radiates enthusiasm when he talks about Riversport Rapids in Oklahoma City, which opened in early May. This artificial whitewa- ter park, constructed within eyeshot of the Interstate and minutes from downtown, is the last piece of Knopp’s vision to revitalize what was for- merly an ugly, downtrodden neighborhood at the crossroads of America. For engineer Scott Shipley, it also represents the future of whitewater parks. The course features a total drop of 21 feet and channels special- ized for river play and slalom, as well as an area designed for swiftwater rescue training. Shipley made the focal point a big, pulsing wave—the world’s largest artificial freestyle feature—enclosed by tiered seating and a restaurant. Riversport culminated the development of Oklahoma City’s Boat-


house District, which already includes rowing facilities and trendy hous- ing. Just like Charlotte, the whitewater park hosts commercial rafting operations and international competitions—it was already the site of the U.S. Olympic team trials. “We’ve made water part of our culture,” says Knopp. “Rowing has become very popular and we think we’ll see the same thing with whitewater.” Shipley takes it a step further. It’s only a matter of time, he says, be-


fore Oklahoma City turns out the next great freestyle or slalom paddler. “Everywhere we’ve built a park, there are a ton more boaters,” says Shi- pley. “I am sure we’ll see a whole bunch of little grommets taking up kay- aking in Oklahoma City. One of them could become the world’s best.”


Conor Mihell is an award-winning freelance writer and avid paddler. www.conormihell.com.


www.rapidmag.com | 49


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