SEARSMONT — Not often do you hear someone wet, cold and rather happy chat good-naturedly about a boulder that got in their way.

But that sums up the joy of canoe and river racing in Maine. It also explains how the six-mile St. George River Race went for Chris Deane and 15-year-old John Goulet.

When the two paddlers came upon a massive, foot-high boulder in the middle of the St. George River’s rapids, they launched off it, rocked back and forth like a seesaw, and somehow came out the other end.

“I thought we were going in,” said Goulet as he closed his eyes in the retelling.

Deane, 45, just stepped out, pushed off the slick rock, steadied the boat in the rushing river, and hung on as it thumped back into the water.

“Mentally I was ready to get wet. Fortunately, I have good balance,” smiled Deane, a paddler for 30 years.

Deane and Goulet are examples of the new youth enthusiasm in the Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization, the Maine paddle racing group that helps get the word out about the 42 river races in Maine.

Deane, who was Goulet’s father’s college paddling partner, teamed up with the teenager to try to win their division in the Maine’s canoe racing point series because Dennis Goulet has back trouble and his son wanted to compete.

After taking second out of 12 in the junior-senior class at the St. George race (despite the rock) Deane and Goulet are well on their way to taking the title.

This year the Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization helped encourage more youth divisions at a half-dozen of the paddle races around Maine, said president Jeff Owen.

In addition the organization is rolling out more prizes, a big canoe giveaway, and a separate high school canoe racing series for youth.

“If we can support the growth of youth programs, we’ll get more kids in boats,” Owen said.

At the St. George River Race on March 27 in Searsmont, four new divisions were added to encourage younger paddlers, said race director Dale Cross.

The junior-senior class was split into two categories, a separate high school division was added, and another one was created for college paddlers.

“Obviously we’re all concerned with the sport and trying to get younger folks involved. That is what everyone has been trying to do the last five years,” Cross said. “This week we have four different groups from four different high schools. That is something we haven’t seen for a long, long time. That is really positive.”

The 42 Maine canoe and kayak races held around Maine draw hundreds of adult paddlers. And plenty who go play the part of the serious racer, suited head to toe in Wetsuits and colorful GORE-TEX clothing.

Their canoes are stuffed with foam to provide stability; their paddles are feather light.

But many other paddlers enter these events simply to welcome spring.

In the St. George race, Kevin Coombs of Belfast and Brian Wagner of Lisbon entered the weekend warrior division.

Once on the river, the two men grew competitive; and finished 38th out of 112 boats. But the spring race is more of a ritual for them.

“Each year we do a couple of 50-mile trips. This gets us ready,” Wagner said.

Other paddlers show for Maine’s spring canoe races with a purely come-what-may attitude. These folks either have never raced a canoe before, or come to enjoy the river’s annual spring run and roar.

This time of year, the water is ice cold; the current is fast.

Scott Chaffin of Camden paddled in his first river race on March 27.

“I wasn’t out to work; just to enjoy the day. I just wanted to enjoy the scenery and stay in the boat,” Chaffin said.

He finished 100th out of 112 boats.

After climbing up the river bank in Appleton, Chaffin was already planning his next race.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]