ORONO – There are roughly 150 high schools in the state of Maine and hundreds of athletes. But, only one school and only 15 or so kids can say they compete in varsity canoe racing. It’s right here in Orono.
The Red Riots are are preparing to impress at the states biggest race, the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.
Orono practice three days a week and competes on the weekend in various races around the state. Being the only varsity canoe team in the state it often competes against itself, and the field.
“I think I’m realizing that it’s fun being in the wave and not running away from it,” Orono canoe racing team sophomore Amneh Wise said.
Wise never canoed before joining the team this year, but in just two weeks she’s become one with the waters of Orono.
“It’s like riding a bike almost because once you know how to do it becomes actually fun and one of these days I’ll take off my training wheels and become really good at it,” she added.
Wise is one of the more inexperienced racers, but is still given the same practice regiment as some of the more experienced paddlers on the team.
Before kids can even step into a canoe they’re taught everything about the canoe and how to be safe. Jeff Owen, the Red Riots coach, has been teaching kids how to race for years, he also remembers the first race he took part in as a kid.
“We hit a rock so hard I shot out of the boat like a cannonball landed high and dry up on shore and been hooked ever since,” Owen said.
Owen has been racing since he was about 10 years old, the whitewater veteran is preparing his team for mother of all races, the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.
“He’s good he tries to give everyone a fair amount of time in coaching because he can’t be with everyone everyday,” freshman Ashton Mabee said.
“It’s definitely neat for the kids to be out there and be part of an event that that’s big and has that many spectators,” Owen said.
The team is excited for the opportunity to race in one of the biggest stream races in New England. It’s also ready for the uncertainty that comes with it.
“Last year on the Kenduskeag my boat sunk,” Mabee said.
“Canoeing you have to listen to the signals the person gives otherwise you won’t do so well and you won’t be successful,” Wise said.
Orono will be competing against kids in the high school division as well as the field. One member of the field, their coach, is hoping to hold off his youthful Red Riots.
“A couple teams that I think are going to beat me this year I don’t know I’m going to try to not let it happen, but it’s really neat to be out there with them,” Owen said.
The Kenduskeag Stream Canoe race will begin Saturday at 8:30 am.