Published: Mar 21, 2018

Lester River Race 2018

I don’t think I have ever been involved in or heard of an event that’s date is determined so last minute (maybe the Eddie Aiku Big wave surf competition) than the Lester River Race. What can I say: Mother Nature doesn’t cater to us. So every spring we watch the weather, looking at the extended forecast on a daily basis. Debates and theories run rampant on when the river is going to break open or what pattern of weather conditions will free the Lester of its cage of ice. Arguments like ‘Three days of 60 degrees boom! Open!,’ or ‘Nah, a week of 50s and sun, she’ll go.’ Truth is it’s never the same conditions or date.

What is true is that on some random, warm spring day it finally happens: the river busts open, logs and ice chunks rush down the river further widening the channel and chipping off the anchor ice. If the river is clear and can be safely paddled the Thursday night before, we call the race on for that Saturday! Then it’s on like cold water Donkey Kong!

Yeah, the water is cold since it was ice and snow just hours ago! Then that Saturday at 3pm the race is on with a racer launching every minute. Last year we had over 20 expert paddlers race.

The conditions are part of the challenge and adventure: cold water, high flows, complex and challenging class IV and IV + rapids. It’s for these reasons it’s an expert only kayak race. Don’t worry though there is a whitewater paddling event the end of July that has something for newbies and novices on the warm summer waters of the St. Louis River:

Why Do They Race?

For creek boaters (whitewater kayaker and canoeists that run steep, technical rivers) I am preaching to the choir here on all that makes north shore creeking great. For those not in the know, most paddlers that stay in the sport (life time whitewater enthusiasts) aren’t in it purely for an adrenaline rush. Those people burn out and fade away. Lifetime paddlers certainly enjoy the thrill, but it’s calculated risk earned through experience and training and the love of whitewater that puts them on the water. They paddle for the personal challenge and the beautiful places whitewater takes them.

Part of what makes the Lester River Race unique and fun is the same thing that ‘normal’ folks think is suffering: cold water and challenging rapids. Besides that, how many steep creeks run through a city where rapids can be easily accessed and viewed like in Duluth, MN!

One of the main goals of the Lester River Race is to showcase skilled paddlers as they challenge themselves running difficult whitewater, the unique natural wonders of Duluth, MN and creeks of Lake Superior’s north shore. Our other goal is to celebrate whitewater and the beautiful landscapes it flows through, sharing it with those not usually exposed to it, promoting outdoor and local businesses, and bringing fun people together.


A big part of this celebration of whitewater is the spectators. It’s fun and inspiring to see and hear people cheering on the paddlers. Although as a racer you kind of have tunnel vision while focused on the rapids but you sense that people are there.

Anyways, for spectators, there are two main spots to spectate from the east side (roadside) of the river. The main viewing spots where you can view two class IV rapids are across the road from the Lester River Golf Course lot. Follow a well-worn hiking trail just a short distance to the river, then go either upstream or downstream to view one of these challenging rapids (take the high trail if you go downstream to view the finish line rapid).

If you hike up any of the west trails from Lester Park you have a few more options to view some of the rapids that don’t have easy roadside access or the last two from a different perspective. Some people gather around the biggest rapid on the river, ‘Almost Always,’ a steep, complicated class V falls. It gets its name from almost always being portaged. The falls isn’t part of the race course but some brave souls usually fire it up for fun!


This race couldn’t happen without volunteers! Our volunteers run the gamut from experienced on water safety kayakers, to on shore safety, to race timers to those that assist with check in. All are vital to pulling off a smooth race day. Those that volunteer we feed at the post race party and are entered in the raffle for some great prizes from our sponsors. Speaking of sponsors…


Sponsors help take this race to a higher level of awesomeness. Sponsors help us reward volunteers for their time and energy, offer up a little scratch for the top racers and get the word out there!

Huge thanks for RPM Online Solutions for creating this website. Cheers to Swiftwater Adventures for helping fund the build and maintenance of the website, and organizing the race.

Mega thanks to the American Canoe Association for their help in race insurance, Northland Paddlers Alliance helping as a Paddle America Club and aiding in volunteers. A shout out to the City of Duluth for the use of Lester Park.

And of course these awesome businesses:

Accent Paddles for the grand prize, an Accent Paddle! And Kokatat for the top raffle prize for racers or volunteers to win!!

Special thanks to Bent Paddle Beer for prizes and post-race party venue, Rapids Riders, Snap Dragon Designs, Earth Rider Brewery, OMC Smokehouse, Frost River, and Gear Junkie for awesome prizes!

We hope to see you all on the banks of the Lester River this spring and on the St. Louis River whitewater rafting this summer!


Category(s): Blog Posts