Clearwater Kayak Fest celebrates two lives this year

2019 event also sees record number of registered participants

Ben Earl started the Clearwater Kayak Fest in 2007, but died tragically a year later while kayaking in Avola, B.C. The event has kept going as a celebration of his life, with the main award of the weekend named in his honour. Photo submitted

The Clearwater Kayak Fest just finished its 11th year with a record turnout of registered participants, seeing roughly 85 kayakers showing up to tackle the rapids.

The event was started in 2007 by Australian kayaker Ben Earl, who died the following year while paddling near Avola, B.C. and the fest has been kept going year after year in Earl’s memory.

The first few years after Earl’s death the event was used as a fundraiser to help support his wife Robyn and their two children who were left behind, and eventually, his family in Australia donated money to the festival to keep it going as a legacy.

“Ben just decided that Clearwater needed a kayak festival, so he went out of his way and kicked it off,” said Earl’s friend Mat Kasunich, who now organizes the event.

“They started it, then the next year he died in 2008 and we just kept it going and it hasn’t stopped since—it’s not just a kayak festival to me, it’s about remembering someone. It’s about a celebration of life.”

This year the Clearwater Kayak Fest celebrated two lives, as Adrian Kiernan, a fellow paddler who was with Earl at the time of his death, also passed away last year while on a kayak expedition in Nepal.

Some raw footage of the Adrian Kiernan Sabretooth Boater Cross.

Posted by Clearwater Kayak Festival on Tuesday, July 23, 2019

It was Kiernan who restarted the festival after it went through a brief hiatus years ago, and in his honour one of the races of the weekend, the Adrian Kiernan Sabertooth Canyon Race, was named after him.

Kiernan was a professional boater who travelled the world, kayaking and making movies about his adventures and had taken part in some of the biggest expeditions in the world in places like Kirghistan, Nepal, China and Russia.

As for the event itself, the three-day festival offers a mix of races, freestyle competition, live music and awards.

The races began Saturday with the Adrian Kiernan Sabertooth Race, which had dozens of kayakers jockeying for the first place spot, followed by the intermediate Middle Canyon Race, with men’s and women’s divisions for both competitions.

On Saturday evening attendees were entertained by the band Rain City as well as opening acts Darlene Fair and Kyle Cavanagh at the Clearwater Ski Hill Lodge.

The event wrapped up Sunday with the freestyle competition where kayakers perform a series of tricks, flips, and spins and win based on the volume of the cheering crowd.

Wild time on wild water at Clearwater Kayak Fest

“We also have a Ben Earl award, where we have local artist Janel Harrison who paints a beautiful picture, then we give that as an award to the most adventurous person, along with $100, and a case of Busch beer,” said Kasunich.

Each year the painting depicts a different kayaking scene with a copy of the words written on Earl’s memorial painted into the piece: As long as there are young men with the light of adventure in their eyes or a touch of wilderness in their souls, rapids will be run.

This year the Ben Earl award went to Nia Williams who borrowed a play boat and took to the water while being six months pregnant.

The Clearwater Kayak Fest also gives money annually to the charity First Descents, which takes terminally ill patients kayaking and on various other adventures, and the funds are donated in Earl’s name—this year $300 was given to the organization.

“We donate in his name so it’s always like he’s giving back.”

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