This blog is designed to highlight the paddling opportunities within South Dakota, mainly within a 50-mile radius of Sioux Falls. While Sioux Falls is far from the adventure of coastal regions, there is a certain satisfaction in utilizing the available waterways to observe weather, water conditions, and the landscape along the shoreline. In addition, there is a wealth of animal life on the waters of small South Dakota lakes, rivers, and creeks, including geese, ducks, pelicans, great blue heron, egrets, hawks, owls, perching birds, deer, raccoons, and beaver. Eagles, fox, and coyote are also sometimes spotted.

The sites described are places where I have kayaked over the past few years, mostly in South Dakota but sometimes including locations in Iowa and Minnesota. One of the best sources of information on the accessibility of small lakes is the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer, the large map book of South Dakota. Lakes with a public access are generally identified by a boat symbol marking the location of a launching site on public land.

You will notice the menu of paddling locations on the right side of the blog. Each of the postings is linked to one of the areas, and my intention is to provide a continuing review of the places where I paddle. Perhaps these narratives will help readers select waterways of interest to them. Please feel free to offer a comment regarding any of my postings; I would welcome the dialog.

I also maintain a companion blog that describes hiking opportunities within the Sioux Falls area. You can access that blog at:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

South Dakota Kayak Challenge

This weekend, the long planned South Dakota Kayak Challenge was held: a race beginning at Yankton’s Riverside Park along the Missouri River, south of the last dam on the river, and ending at Sioux City, Iowa. Like many others, I had the opportunity to serve as a volunteer on this race, an event that drew over 90 kayaks and canoes for the 36-hour race.
The race was planned and managed under the leadership of Jarett Bies, vice president of the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association (SDCKA), and Steven Dahlmeier, president of the SDCKA. I arrived at Riverside Park in Yankton about 6:15 a.m. in time to do a few minor jobs as the race was nearing the 7:00 a.m. start. The sight of all the paddlers assembling, the boats lined up on the shoreline, and Jarett Bies giving television interviews was enough to make me wish that I were among the paddlers. Thinking of 70 miles of paddling into a southeast head wind gave me pause, and, on second thought, I was glad that I did not have to try and prove myself in these circumstances. I am a geezer, after all, and doing my checkpoint assignment was probably enough.
At 7:00 a.m., a military sendoff was signaled with a “cannon shot,” and the 90 boats surged off the beach and set out for the first checkpoint, 17.25 miles away at the Myron Grove public access area, also known locally as “Highlines.” My first official assignment was working under the direction of the “Checkpoint Boss Cory Diedrich at Checkpoint 1.
At the checkpoints, there were generally three volunteers working. My role was to verify the boat number and name, my colleagues at the checkpoint then checked them off on the official racing forms and noted the time of arrival at the checkpoint. We had ice and water available at the checkpoints, and another one or two volunteers filled orders for the racers. With my binoculars, I would note the boats in the distance and then call out the names and numbers as the racers arrived. Many of the paddlers came ashore to stretch their legs and take on more water and ice. Some of the very serious racers had their own support teams at the checkpoints to offer advice, encouragement, and pass food and liquids to the paddlers.
All the paddlers had passed the first checkpoint by about 11:30 or so, and I moved on to the third checkpoint, about 40 miles down from the starting point. By 12:15, the first racer had passed Checkpoint 3, and a few of the most hardy and well-equipped racers arrived within the next 15 to 30 minutes. I stayed at Checkpoint 3 until about 6:45 p.m., and only three boats had not arrived. Checkpoint Boss Cory relieved those of us who had been on this site since noon, and he planned to spend the night there. Jarett and Steven had moved on down to Checkpoint 4 and then to the finish line, points where the action was most intense. By Checkpoint 3, about 7 people had dropped out of the race.
There were a variety of boats in the race. There were sleek surf skies that were long, narrow sit-on-top types of kayaks with all the accouterments for racing, including a mounted gps system and trip computer and a built in water container with tubes running through the deck so that the paddlers could sip as they moved along. A number of touring kayaks were in the race, perhaps 17 feet long or so with a rudder and experienced paddlers that looked ready for the race. Then there were a surprising number of recreational kayaks, many only 10-12 feet long and paddlers with no sprayskirt or rudder. A few canoes were in the race, some serious looking canoes that looked race-ready, and other more common looking tandem canoes. I did not see a solo canoe in the event. There was a Hobie Cat kayak with the pedal drive system, “MirageDrive fins.” One guy in a touring kayak was using a single paddle, which he told me worked better with the wind conditions. Some people traveled from Canada, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa to join the South Dakota paddlers.
The wind was from 20-30 mph, right into the face of paddlers as they headed southeast down the river, and the temperature was about 90 degrees. The river is quite wide along this route, and the trees provided something of a lee at various points. Paddlers told me, though, that unfortunately the lee conditions were not in the flow of the main current, and it did not help much. Some paddlers told me that without paddling, the wind blew them upstream.
By Checkpoint 3, the fastest paddlers were three hours ahead of the pack. I admire the strength and endurance of these hardy racers: they are truly athletes of the first order. But, I think that I admire even more the ordinary paddlers in their slow, tubby, short kayaks who ploughed on into the wind and were able to eat up the miles through their steady efforts. Few of the racers had any illusion of winning the race; they just wanted to be part of the event and to challenge themselves through participation. This, then, was a race for the most competitive paddlers as well as a great event for the “everyman” sort of paddler – paddlers like me.
For further details on how the race turned out, check out the South Dakota Canoe and Kayak Association club blog at or the club Facebook page. One of the Sioux City television stations and South Dakota Public Broadcasting covered the story. The SDPB cameraman told me that the story of the race will be presented in a program airing in October.


Cory Diedrich said...

Jay, great coverage of the challenge. It was to have you back in SD and share an amazing day on the river. I always refer people to your blog as the premier resource for kayaking locations in our area. Thanks for all you do for the sport.


Cory Diedrich said...

It was "FUN"...just thought I would clarify.