Lyons 16-year-old Katie Fankhouser was bummed out Wednesday when she heard she wouldn’t be able to show off her kayaking skills for a hometown crowd this weekend at the Lyons Outdoor Games. The freestyle competition was canceled due to low flows in the St. Vrain River.
Although the river will soon be rushing, as mountaintop snow melt has come later than normal this cold, wet spring, Fankhouser might not be able to enjoy the stream’s early peak days as the weather warms over the next month.
That’s because she has her sights set on a big-time kayaking contest in which she’ll be representing the United States: the 2019 International Canoe Federation Freestyle World Championships in Sort, Spain.
Fankhouser, who turns 17 next week, in 2017 placed fourth in the competition’s junior women’s freestyle kayak division. She is leaving June 12 for France, from where she will travel to Spain for the contest starting June 29 to see if she can improve upon that finish.
The lifelong Lyons resident is one of three representing the U.S. in the junior women’s division at the event.
She will be brimming with confidence heading into Sort, she said, because she is coming off her personal-best score notched last weekend in Buena Vista, where she took first in USA Freestyle Kayaking’s U.S. junior women’s national competition among nine other contestants.
As her profile has grown in the kayaking community, Fankhouser has embraced extending the reach of the sport, especially among other young women.
“It’s been really cool to get other people in kayaks,” Fankhouser said. “Some of my favorite parts about kayaking is getting younger people, young women into kayaking, too. I love seeing other girls on the water, because sometimes the sport can be overwhelmed with male competitors.”
Part of the key to her success has been her invention of the trick she dubbed as the “Skippy Rippie,” with the latter word being short for the term “River Hippie,” which Fankhouser’s father teasingly nicknamed Katie as she developed her love of paddling, her mom Joycelyn Fankhouser said.
The “Skippy Rippie” is an “entry move,” which competitors perform as they come into the water feature. Having only a minute in which to tally points, the move save times by not requiring set up.
“It’s basically an entry roll, but you’re going in and sending your bow into the air and landing facing upstream,” Katie Fankhouser said of the Skippy Rippie move. “Whereas the trick most people do is called a wing-over, and they hit the feature sideways and roll over with their head out of the water and send the stern into the air.”
The Skippy Rippie has started to gain more prominence.
“I saw one of the junior men attempt it in a competition,” Kate Fankhouser said. “It’s been pretty cool. I’ve seen it show up on social media a couple times. Just recently it’s taken off as an actual trick.”
Her parents were used to overseeing and encouraging a kid in a sport that didn’t require a ball, basket or field when Katie began showing an interest after getting involved with the Lyons Kids Kayak Club as a 10-year-old. Her two older sisters were respectively a competitive gymnast and a high-powered shooter with the Boulder Rifle Club program.
“Kayaking is something we (as parents) did not do,” Joycelyn Fankhouser said. “We got Katie into kayaking after she quit gymnastics. She was like, ‘You know this might be for me.’”
The soon-to-be high school senior’s trip to Spain is just one of her several competitive accomplishments in the past year; Fankhouser also won 2A state crosscountry for Lyons Middle Senior High School, and ran a leg in the track team’s 1,600 meter relay that finished third at state in May.
In Sort, Spain, Fankhouser will compete against paddlers from at least 15 countries that had entered teams as of the writing of an April newsletter from the International Canoe Federation. The locals whose river she will ride share the same penchant as many Lyons residents for popularizing freestyle kayaking, and paddling in all its forms, as competitive sport.
“Sort makes one more step to the evolution and promotion of a sport that has become more than a sport, it has been one of the transforming and structural elements of our society, a society where kayak, nowadays, is a huge part of each one of our inhabitant’s DNA,” Sort Mayor Raimon Monterde stated in the newsletter.