Twenty-four boats charging class IV and V rapids at the same time as quickly as possible is a recipe for disaster—the exact kind of pandemonium most people try to avoid on the river. Not at the Neilson Race. Chaos is the norm for the notorious boater cross events in whitewater’s blossoming race scene.
Running—and photographing—the Neilson Race isn’t easy
In the days before the second annual Neilson Race, organizers faced a predictable dilemma: would the water level cooperate? The makeshift gauge, a painted rock at the takeout, showed lower than ideal conditions.
On race day, the gauge was nowhere to be seen.
Unprecedented rainfall the night before had filled the river to the brim and then some. A nearby town was on flood alert. No one had seen the river so high.
The Neilson Race changes course
“There was no way they were going to race down the section that now had holes big enough to send 30-foot long logs into a cartwheel,” says paddling photographer Dylan Page.
A new location was scouted at the last minute and Page, who’d arrived to capture the event, was dealing with a challenge of his own: with the river spilling over its banks and raging through thick forest, where would he position himself to shoot?
Scouting out the perfect spot
“I walked up and down the course and managed to spot one tree that was overhanging the river,” he says. “I threw on my PFD, just in case, and climbed the tree.”
Knowing he’d have a tiny window of time to shoot, he readied his camera and waited for the racers.
“When the paddlers came around the corner, everything was in motion,” Page recalls. “Water going in every direction, the tree I was perched in swaying, kayakers going forward, backwards and maybe a couple upside down. Ten seconds later they were gone.”
Neilson Race photo is a winner
The resulting photo captures exactly what Page had set out to do.
“I wanted to show the chaos that is 24 kayakers barreling down a swollen river,” says Page. “I chose to frame everyone in one shot and to exaggerate the proximity of the kayakers by compressing the perspective using a telephoto lens.”