Annual celebration of James River, paddling enters 6th year

For six years now, a growing group of whitewater paddlers in Richmond has gotten together the first Saturday in December to celebrate the past year’s adventures on the James River and often all over the world. It started as “Retro Movie Night” at The Camel, said Hunter Davis, one of the event’s driving forces, where paddlers would watch the videos they had all shot of whitewater exploits from the past season.

Credit: Rich Young

Credit: Rich Young

Davis moved back to Richmond from Asheville this past year. In Asheville, he said, “video producers were throwing these movie nights where everybody would get together from the local (paddling) community and watch movies together. There was nothing like that in Richmond, and I thought it would be cool to start something.”

Davis and Riverside Outfitters standup paddleboarding guide Ben Moore organized the first movie night, which quickly grew into a full-day celebration: group paddles throughout the day, followed by an afternoon barbecue at the 14th Street takeout and movies that night.

“We have this thing that’s here that’s awesome, let’s celebrate it,” Moore said, referring to the James.

Local paddler Patrick Griffin said it’s the nature of the James River that allows for such a close-knit community.

“For how big the whitewater community is in Richmond, it’s very close,” said Griffin, a high-school math teacher. “There are other places where the whitewater community is big, but because you’re using multiple rivers, you don’t have the closeness that we do on the James. I’m good friends with Class II boaters and Class V+ boaters. And you see them all in the same place . . . it fosters a true sense of community.”

Davis said the event, which is free and open to the public, drew 50-80 paddlers last year and over 200 people to The Camel.

Last year, another event was added to the Retro slate. Griffin organized the James River Run 5K as a fundraiser for Greg Hawkins, former VCU Outdoor Adventure Program leader, who died of lung cancer this past year. The 5K continues this year, going off from the Reedy Creek put-in area at 8 a.m. That should give runners who also want to paddle time to get to the 14th Street takeout by 11 a.m. where a Riverside Outfitters shuttle will take them all upstream to begin the group run. The videos at The Camel kick off at 5 p.m. and should run until about 9.

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