One of the oldest rivers in California, the Kern River was established more than 80 million years ago when the Sierra Nevada were a volcanic range. The longest whitewater river in the state, the snow melt-fed watershed flows from the 14,000-foot slopes of the High Sierra near Mt. Whitney more than 165 miles into the fields and farms of the San Joaquin Valley, near Bakersfield. The Kern is protected by more miles of Wild and Scenic designation than any other river system in the continental United States.
Celebrating its 50th year, the Kern River Festival is the oldest kayaking race in California, and-- along with the Kern itself-- is woven into the fabric of Kernville's identity as a recreation community. But the festival is not only woven into the community's economy and culture; it is bound into the history of paddle sports, thanks to “Canoe Guru” Tom Johnson, who is among the pioneers of modern-day paddle sports. The Kernville resident made a name for himself in flatwater, slalom, and wildwater racing, and is credited with making the first fiberglass canoe in 1942 and the first rotomolded plastic kayak, the "River Chaser," in 1974. Johnson is the “TJ” in the TJ Slalom at the Kern River Festival, which he and the now-defunct Haystackers paddling club started in April 1963. Originally, the race's slalom gates were made of old ropes and wood dowels.
Today, the nonprofit Kern Valley River Council (KVRC) hosts the races, all funds from which are used for conservation purposes, but also help involve and educate paddlers and the public regarding river use, issues, and conservation. Kern River Festival events include the Brush Creek Race, Hooligan Build Your Own Boat Competition, Wildwater races, and the TJ Classic Slalom race. The Hooligan Boat, Slalom, and Wildwater events are being held at Riverside Park in midtown Kernville. All events have easy access for boaters and spectators.
The Hooligan Build Your Own Competition was inspired by the FIBArk River Festival event that builds a boat “using anything that floats, but is not a boat.” Saturday afternoon Hooligan Boat captains will attempt to paddle their creations from the bottom of Ewings rapid, past the bridge, and down through all the Riverside Park rapids. Brush Creek racers will compete in two different events: an Extreme Down River and Extreme Slalom on the falls at Brush Creek on Saturday.
FREE camping will be available for all registered boaters at Frandy Park Friday and Saturday nights. $10 camping for friends of boaters. Films will be shown Friday and Saturday evening at Frandy, with a band, beer garden, dinner and awards Saturday immediately following the Hooligan Race. The Festival Silent Auction will be on Saturday, and Raffle on Sunday.