There’s no better way to spend an August weekend than getting tossed around on a warm, big-water play run—a fact Clearwater Kayak Festival goers have been privy to since the event’s beginnings in 2007. But the story behind this remarkable gathering goes well beyond the wild whitewater.
A Kayak Festival To Celebrate The Clearwater And A Paddler’s Legacy
The Clearwater River in British Columbia is known for its whitewater. The most popular section is an exciting stretch of class III-IV flowing through Wells Gray Provincial Park above the confluence with the North Thompson River. Come the summer months, the Clearwater warms as it passes through the park’s six lakes, before it reaches the lower Clearwater, where kayakers and rafters spend the day bouncing through cross curlers and holes found on rapids like Mosh Pit and The Wall. Meanwhile, freestyle paddlers hold long sessions getting aerial at Pink Mountain Wave.
This eight-kilometer stretch of the Clearwater is a treasure of the province’s paddling scene, and in 2007 a local guide and kayaker named Ben Earle decided it was worth celebrating, starting the first-ever Clearwater Kayak Festival. Unfortunately, a year later Earle tragically passed away during a first descent expedition of the nearby Finn Creek. The prominent paddler left behind a family including his wife Robin, a three-year-old daughter, and seven-week-old son. The Clearwater paddling community was compelled to continue the festival the following year, both in memory of Earle, and to help out his family.
Ben’s children Rio and Finn are now teenagers and remain close to the festival 15 years later. And the gathering itself has never forgotten its roots. Each year the Clearwater Kayak Festival makes a charitable donation in Earle’s name to First Descents—the non-profit started by kayaker Brad Ludden to provide outdoor experiences to young adults affected by cancer.
“He’s still giving back to the outdoor community he loved so much,” shares co-organizer Mat Kasunich who was a close friend of Earle’s. “That’s the reason I keep doing it. I live five hours away, but it’s such a special event to be a part of.”
In 2023 the Clearwater Kayak Festival will continue as the longest-running whitewater festival in Western Canada, and for good reason.
What to Expect At The 2023 Clearwater Kayak Festival
Paddlers congregate at the Clearwater Ski Hill each year to participate in the kayak festival. The 2022 event saw some rowdy water levels, and paddlers can expect more of the good times the Clearwater is known for in 2023.
Kayakers participate in events over the course of three days, including the Adrian Kiernan Boater Cross and a freestyle competition often held at Pink Mountain, though the chosen site is water level dependent. In addition, whitewater standup paddlers have the opportunity to take part in some race action themselves. When each of the three days concludes, music and evening festivities await back at Clearwater Ski Hill.
Outside of recreational competition, there are also beginner clinics and plenty of opportunities to paddle the lower stretch of the Clearwater in an effort to share what the river is all about with progressing paddlers.
To top it all off, one paddler is honored with the Ben Earle Award. The award is meant for the paddler who most embodies the festival’s spirit set forth by Earle. In 2022, young Linden Gillman was presented with the award for kayaking at the highest water levels he’d ever seen on the river, and not letting a big swim get in the way of his stoke for the Clearwater—a positive sign the big water run can look forward to another generation of celebration to come.
The Clearwater Kayak Festival kicks off on August 4, 2023 at the Clearwater Ski Hill and runs through August 6. See a schedule of the weekend’s events below. You can also find more information about exploring the river and surrounding region at wellsgray.ca.
2023 Clearwater Kayak Festival Schedule:
Friday, August 4
Early bird registration, chili, and beer at Clearwater Ski Hill Lodge
Saturday August 5
The Adrian Kiernan Boatercross
Advanced SUP Downriver Race
Beginner SUP Downriver Race
Backcountry Bowls Food Truck onsite
Ben Earle Award
Musical Acts: Tim Johnson, Soul Tide, Richard Maggs Band
Sunday August 6
Beginner Kayak and SUP lessons