Greg Parker and Jason Craig are just two of the freestyle kayakers having a good time in the upper playhole during FIBArk 2010.


America’s oldest whitewater festival, FIBArk (First in Boating the Arkansas) began with a bet in 1949:
‘Eighteen years ago, the race was conceived. It came about in an unpublicized, undramatic fashion. Two merchants, drinking coffee (because it was too cold that February day to do anything else) challenged each other to a canoe race from Salida to Canon City through the famous Royal Gorge. The race would cover 56 miles. Word of the challenge spread and more people became interested. A parade and festival were organized. Two swiss boys heard of the race while in this country running other rivers. Their boats were small folding boats. They announced they wanted to enter the competition. Of the 23 entrants in the race that year (1949) only the Swiss boys reached the finish line. (The coffee drinkers didn’t run.)’

Two Swiss boatmen, Robert Ris and Max Romer, won the first downriver race in 1949. Around 10,000 people lined the banks between Salida and Canon City to watch the boaters navigate the rapids. Below is video of the Arkansas River Rough Water Race:

Erich Seidel

FIBArk legend Erich Seidel was from Munich, Germany. He arrived in Salida in 1953 to compete in the downriver race and the slalom race, which he requested the town to include in the annual tradition. He won both races that year.

Erich lived at 210 Lower F Street for several years.

Erich was interviewed by Sports Illustrated in June 1956 and spoke eloquently about kayaking:

“The river gives signs and you have to be able to understand what he is saying to you. By his green or blue color he tells you what the bottom is like. By his high or deep sounds he points out where the rocks are hiding. By his waves he tells you whether the rocks are big or small. He warns you when to stop and turn. Every river has a different character. The more rivers you know, the easier you can tell if one is good or bad.”

What of the Arkansas?

“He’s an honest river. He tells you right from the beginning that you have to fight, and he tells you the truth.”


FIBArk legend Laurence ‘Campy’ Campton competed in the downriver race 8 times. He placed third 4 times and then won in 1959. An advocate of the race, he served as FIBArk commodore twice.

Laurence ‘Campy’ Campton

228 Lower F, aka the Bon Ton Hotel, aka the Manhattan Hotel, was known as the FIBArk building during the 1970s and 80s. The FIBArk Association used the building as accomodations for visitors during June.

Newsreel footage from the 1951 Downriver Race:

Images from the 1955 Whitewater Classic

Images from the Whitewater Classic 1956 Slalom Race

Five images from the 1958 FIBArk slalom:

FIBArk Queen Becky Savage and attendants 1958

FIBArk Queen and attendants 1965

2006 & 2008 FIBArks filmed by Charles Newcomb