2023 Great Falls Race

DateSaturday-Sunday, August 12-13, 2023
BackgroundThe Great Falls Race was one of the original extreme whitewater competitions, and more than 30 years later, it will still be one of the most challenging. The premiere event of the Potomac Festival is an approximately 60 second sprint down through the powerful cataracts dropping nearly 60 vertical feet. Only experts may compete, but the entire paddling community is welcome to watch and volunteer.
ScheduleSaturday, August 12th 7:30-8:00 AM – Racer check-in, sign waivers, receive bibs 8:00 AM – Pre-Race Briefing 7:30-8:00 AM – Shoreline, Safety, and Timing crews arrive at either MD or VA side lots 8:00-9:00 AM – Safety and timing set-up, racers can take practice laps 9:00 AM – Slalom race starts 11:00 AM – Approximate start for short boat downriver race 7:00 PM Awards Ceremony at Potomac Festival
Sunday, August 13th 8:00 AM – Arrival for safety and timing set-up, racers can take practice laps 9:00 AM – Longboat Downriver run #1 starts 11:00 AM – Approximate start for longboat run #2 1 PM – Awards Ceremony at Great Falls Tavern picnic area (Maryland)
Staging LocationGreat Falls Tavern picnic area, 11710 Macarthur Blvd, Potomac, MD 20854
RegistrationAll participants in the GFR are required to pre-register. Registration will be conducted on-line, outside of the National Parks, and prior to race day. There will be no race-day registration, and no fees collected within the National Parks.
Go to registration page.
All participants will be required to sign liability waivers.
Entry Fee$75 – Great Falls Race: Full Race Package (Race entry for both days; Festival entry; camping; Saturday dinner ticket; t-shirt).
$50 – Great Falls Race: Races Only (Race entry for both days. Does NOT include Festival entry).
$15 – Festival: Entrance (Entrance to the Festival on Saturday eve. Does not include race entry or dinner ticket).
$15 – Festival: Dinner Ticket (One dinner ticket for the Festival on Saturday eve. Does not include race entry or Festival entrance).
Social MediaFacebook Event Page
DescriptionClass V downriver and slalom races on Great Falls of the Potomac.
FormatCLASSIC – Downriver race. Also known as the “Longboat Race”, but racers may select any boat length. The Great Falls Race demands a paddler to be steady yet dynamic and can reward or punish a racer for choosing an aggressive line. A section of the Falls will be chosen for the race based on our Water Levels Chart and common consensus. Competitors will be allowed 2 race runs in their boat of choice. The fastest combined time wins the Cup!
SLALOM – The local kayaking community has long blended slalom moves in Class V whitewater. The slalom course will be 2-5 gates, buoys, mandatory channels, and rock touches. Race staff will set the course during the week of the event, dictated by water levels, to showcase the best moves on the river and reward the most adaptable technical paddlers in 8-9 foot creek boats. Each racer takes one run.
SHORT – Downriver race in boats up to 9.5 feet in length. Similar to AWP style rules. A section of the Falls will be chosen for the race based on our Water Levels Chart and common consensus. Each racer takes one* run. *Note: if we do not hold a Slalom race, competitors will be allowed 2 race runs and the fastest combined time wins.
Prize-Winning Categories:
Classic – Women’s Kayak (K1W) (all boat lengths) Classic – Men’s Kayak (K1M) (all boat lengths) Classic – Canoe (C1) (Women & Men, all boat lengths) Slalom – Women (K1W/C1W, all boat lengths) Slalom – Men (K1M/C1M, all boat lengths)
Other Recognized Categories:
U17 Men U17 Women Masters
Courses (all levels are approximate and subject to change based on evolving river conditions and the race director’s judgement)Maryland Lines < 2.9 Feet Low water levels allow us to race on the always powerful Maryland side of the main channel underneath the Maryland overlook on Olmsted Island. The Classic course starts on river left shore at the large rock 10 meters above the first waterfall. Racers will navigate ‘Pummel’ and then choose a line on the left through Pencil Sharpener or Z-turn. Racers will then navigate Horseshoe, likely on the right, and finish in an eddy river right at a location explained at the competitors meeting.
A Slalom event here would likely involve a tricky line through Pencil Sharpener, and the hairy ferry line at Horseshoe.
Virginia Lines: 2.9-3.6 feet This Classic race course along the Virginia shore goes through two challenging rapids and over ‘The Spout’ an iconic 20 foot waterfall. The start is on the river right (Virginia) shore just upstream of the large square slab rock. Racers can then choose from the multiple lines through U-Hole then navigate the classic S-Turn rapid and The Spout in quick succession. The finish is a line at the exit of the ‘Kettle’ from the rock outcropping from Virginia below The Spout to the the furthest downstream point of the Flake.
A Slalom event here would change depending on the level. It could involve a mandatory line through U-hole, upstream gates in eddies in the second rapid, and a gate deep in the Kettle requiring an untraditional approach.
Fishladder: 3.6-4.9 feet The Fish Ladder course is the braided dual channels adjacent to the C&O Canal towpath on the Maryland shore. The race starts in an eddy 20 meters upstream of the first slide on a small island on river right. Racers must navigate the first two slides, or the sneak in Tight Quarters. Racers then will enter the crux of the run under the footbridge, where they will choose a line: either slides 3 and 4, the Back Canyon, or Bitch Monkey. In the Classic race, competitors are allowed to take whatever line they think is fastest, or safest for their interests. The finish will be below the fifth (last) slide, river left near the confluence with the main channel and Sandy Beach channel at a location explained at the competitors meeting.
A Slalom event here gives us lots of options because there are so many different lines in the Fish Ladder channel, and lots of powerful upstream eddies. Expect multiple gates in the boogie water early on, and in the hallway above the 5th slide.
The race may be cancelled if the level is rising rapidly above the preferred race lines, or conditions degrade the safety or integrity of the event.
Recommendations and Notes for SpectatorsSpectating will depend on the race lines. Prime viewing locations differ from course to course.
Follow updates on our Facebook page.
MARYLAND LINES: Viewable from either side of the river.
CENTER LINES: Viewable from either side of the river. We encourage spectators to view the race from one of the overlooks at Great Falls Park, VA. There is only one overlook at the C&O National Historical Park (Great Falls Park, MD).
VIRGINIA LINES: Only viewable from Great Falls Park, VA. It is not possible to see any of the course from the Maryland side.
FISHLADDER: Only viewable from C&O Canal National Historical Park (Great Falls Park, MD).
Great Falls Park, VA: 9200 Old Dominion Dr, McLean, VA 22102
C&O Canal National Historical Park (Great Falls Park, MD): 11710 MacArthur Blvd, Potomac, MD 20854
It is important to the future of this event that that all participants and spectators abide by NPS regulations. EVERYONE, INCLUDING RACERS AND SAFETY, MUST REMAIN OUT OF CLOSED AREAS.
PHOTOGRAPHERS do not have special permission to access closed areas.
NOTE: We will have a US Park Police Officer on site throughout the event. She/he will be there both to monitor our permit compliance, and as a resource to us. If you see any violations of the above rules, or if there are unruly spectators, please don’t hesitate to notify the officer.
Please follow the direction of our volunteer Marshals!
Plan to arrive early—depending on the number of park visitors and spectators, there can be a line that forms at the entrance to the park. In addition, some of the prime viewing areas fill up quickly.
National Park Fee—There is a fee to enter the park. Please plan accordingly.
Race DirectorAnand Blum