Boulder County teens make national whitewater racing team

After a couple of top-three finishes at a competition last month, local nonprofit Team Colorado Whitewater Racing has sent two of its members to the U.S. Junior National Whitewater Slalom Team.

Based in Lyons, the club has membership from across Boulder County, including Longmont, Boulder and Lafayette. Around a dozen teenagers spend their Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays practicing in town on St. Vrain Creek, plunging their boats into the rapids and maneuvering between the gates that hang above the water’s surface.

“We’re really blessed to have this set up in Lyons,” said TCWR head coach Liam Malakoff of the training area. “This is one of maybe four to six places in the country where you can reliably train in this discipline.”

In April, five members of TCWR competed in national team trials in Oklahoma City. Boulder resident Luca Bohn, 16, secured a first-place win in the canoe slalom class, and Lyons resident Andrew Delker, 16, snagged a third-place finish in the extreme slalom category for kayaking.

Bohn, a junior at Fairview High School and one of just two canoers in the group, said he was surprised by how well he performed at the trials. In his seventh year with TCWR, he said his time with the club has shown him that practice is crucial, but it’s okay to go at your own pace.

“It’s taught me to have fun with what I’m doing and to not pressure (myself) to do really well in competitions,” he said.

Bohn plans to go to Poland in August for the Junior World Whitewater Slalom Championship; beyond that, he has his sights set on qualifying for the 2028 Olympics.

Delker, a Longmont High School sophomore, joined TCWR during the pandemic. After trying out extreme slalom, which features four kayakers racing simultaneously, he said he was hooked immediately.

“I love the adrenaline rush,” he said. “I feel like there’s also more comradery, even though it’s competitive. Everyone’s just so nice to be around.”

Similar to Bohn, Delker said he wasn’t expecting to place at all due to how stiff the competition was. Now, with a spot on the junior national team, he can represent the U.S. in international tournaments, which he hopes to do.

“I didn’t ever think that would be an opportunity I could have,” he said.

This is the third year with Malakoff at the helm of TCWR, which was founded 10 years ago. As a former member of the U.S. Junior National Whitewater Slalom Team himself, he admits there’s some “nostalgic pride” that comes from watching that legacy continue.

“Paddling is something that’s really deeply connected to my childhood,” he said. “I’ve known these kids for three years now, and getting to watch them go through the process of discovery that I went through…I feel like I get to see paddling anew.”

Most of the club will travel to Spain for two weeks this summer on top of trips to festivals and races across the state, which Malakoff said is how they “spread the gospel of slalom.” TCWR is also hosting an introductory paddling program later this month for kids 9 through 13 in an attempt to get a slightly younger crowed interested in whitewater sports.

Malakoff said he loves representing Colorado at national competitions, especially considering the “underdog position” TCWR is in with the frigid winters that prevent the team from training in whitewater year-round. While he doesn’t like to focus too much on placements, he called Bohn’s and Delker’s accomplishments a nice reward for their years of hard work.

“I don’t really care much about medals and podiums and things like that, except that they are a really nice acknowledgement of the effort these folks put in,” he said.

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