South Dakota Kayak Challenge: A History
Jarett C. Bies, SDKC Co-Founder
the only registration that took place in the ill-fated first
go-round for South Dakota’s premier kayak and canoe
race, the South Dakota Kayak Challenge. In 2008, founders
Steven Dahlmeier and Jarett Bies hoped to offer a race of
the bar a bit high, picking one of South Dakota’s most
challenging stretches of water before an audience that for
the most part was a bit leery. Based solely on Lake Oahe,
the initial plan was to have racers begin at the Highway 212
bridge and face the big, dark-blue waters of the state’s
largest reservoir traveling to the Oahe Dam. In the remote
area around what locals know as Little Bend, paddlers would
face not only sea-like waves and amazing South Dakota winds,
but the remote nature of the land known to be friendlier to
rattlesnakes than to paddlers with nothing but fiberglass
or plastic between them and the elements.
team recalibrated. They scouted other locations. They wanted
moving water and infrastructure on either end of the race,
so out-of-state racers might have the things they needed to
make it more than a test of mettle. The allure of the wildest
stretch of the Missouri River, between Yankton and Sioux City,
made a tremendous amount of sense. In 2009, they announced
a new South Dakota Kayak Challenge. And the response was tremendous.
a few weeks, more than 80 racers from 13 states and Canada
sent in registrations for the 2010 inaugural run of the 72-mile
event. The organizers made a key decision in adding Cory Diedrich
to the team, and as a trio, they recruited a corps of stalwart
volunteers that made the first year’s run of the race
a fantastic success. The action on the water didn’t
disappoint, with a blazing sub-10-hour completion of the course.
lived up to its name due to winds and high temperatures. Stretches
of the river held standing waves, but more than 70 percent
of those who started were able to reach the finish, some on
Sunday morning. Regardless of finish times, racers applauded
the event, volunteers celebrated the contact high of helping
them, and plans were set to do it again in 2011.
Mother Nature has the final say on anything outdoors. A historic
winter snowpack in Montana along with substantial spring rains
led to flooding all along the Missouri River. Less than 30
hours before the start of the 2011 Challenge, the organizers
had to pull the plug and contact all participants that it’d
be impossible to hold the race. The response was bittersweet,
but more than 80 percent of racers said “Hold my registration;
I’ll be back in 2012.”
not lie. On May 26, 2012, nearly 160 racers claimed their
spots along the starting line at Riverside Park in Yankton.
While they faced overcast skies and South Dakota’s constant
winds, they attacked the course. A new record – 8 hours,
50 minutes – was set, and again, a majority of participants
were able to make the Challenge their own, finishing as they
saw fit. A noteworthy figure among those returning participants
was that same die-hard racer who signed up in 2008! She’s
taken part in every one, and she’s already signed up
for 2013’s race.
year’s Challenge approaches, dozens of new racers, as
well as those returning, look to the event as a great way
to start the paddling season. Many come to the course to confront
their own limits and last year’s results. No matter
the motivation, the South Dakota Kayak Challenge is a “big-tent”
event, open to anyone with the desire to try, regardless of
experience on big or small waters. The 100-percent success
rate of its organizing team, along with the countless allies
of the event, which include federal, state, county and local
agencies, makes the anticipation for May 25-26 race palpable.
Cory and Jarett, as well as their entire volunteer team, hope
you’ll consider the South Dakota Kayak Challenge in
your plans for this spring. There’s plenty of room for
you, whether it’s in a cockpit of a kayak, in the seat
of a canoe or in a day-glow t-shirt of the volunteer army.
Like the river that hosts it, the Challenge is one-of-a-kind.
You can make it anything you want, so join us.