Friday, February 1, 2013
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When southeastern paddlers think of whitewater races, they think of rivers like the Ocoee, Green and the Nantahala. The Mulberry Fork and Locust Fork in north central Alabama don’t usually come to mind.
But Signal Mountain resident Tony Diliberto says in order to get to the Green Race, you’ve got to start somewhere.
Branches of the Black Warrior River, Mulberry Fork and Locust Fork rivers are where a lot of young racers cut their teeth. “They are the training ground for all Alabama paddlers,” says Diliberto, race director for the Alabama Cup Whitewater Slalom Races. “That’s where people take you to learn everything.”
Over the next eight weeks, the three slalom races forming the Alabama Cup will draw attention back to the forks. The race courses are located between Guntersville and Birmingham.
The sections used in the race are mostly class II with a few class III features. Just like the Olympic slalom course on the Ocoee, the cup courses have gates that paddlers must pass under to avoid penalty points.
And Diliberto says the gates are designed to take paddlers through some of the tougher portions. “We force you to go into the little hole that you probably would have avoided,” he says.
Race sites on both rivers allow camping and there is often live music throughout the weekends. Between 300 and 500 spectators usually attend, along with the 60 to 70 racers.
ALABAMA CUP WHITEWATER SLALOM RACES
Locust Fork Invitational Feb. 2–3
Mulberry Fork Canoe & Kayak Races March 2–3
Locust Fork Whitewater Classic March 23–24
“It’s an experience,” says Diliberto, who won the cup as a novice. “Most people are just out there racing against themselves and for the fun of it. Winning is nice but it’s mostly for the camaraderie. There’s lot of friendships that have been formed around these races.”
Competitors at the cup, which is open to anyone, were mainly locals when it began in the early 1990s. Now, Diliberto says, there’s an influx of paddlers from Tuscaloosa, Auburn and Chattanooga that have changed the mix.
“I see new faces every year,” he says.