Paddleboard racers started their three- and six-mile races paddling against the current of the Coosa and Etowah rivers, then finished by going with the flow of the Oostanaula and Coosa.

More than 50 paddleboarders and kayakers from all over the Southeast were in Rome Saturday for the Spirit of the Sun races, after a 15-month period with very few events.

Larry Hill of Loudon, Tennessee, won the six-mile stand up paddleboard race in a little over an hour, crossing the finish line in 1:05:09. Allan Brown of Rome won the three-mile stand up paddleboard event in 0:44:14 while Joe Stibler of Talbot, Tennessee, won the three-mile kayak event in 0:30:15.

Paddlers converged on the confluence of the Coosa, Etowah and Oostanaula rivers from as far away as Pensacola, Florida, and Knoxville, Tennessee.

For the first time since the event started four years ago, it was officially sanctioned by the Southern Stoke Paddle Series.

Kevin Loorham used to be one of the local race volunteers before he moved to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, a couple of years ago. He said he hadn’t paddled in at least two years and was anxious to come back to Rome and get on the rivers.

Nashville’s Ted Nelson has been paddleboarding about 11 years.

“It’s just a way for me to keep in shape and get to judge my ability against other competitors,” Nelson said. He participated in the Rome races a couple of years ago and said one of the challenges is right at the confluence, where the currents can get a little tricky.

Another challenging factor is the fallen trees just above and under the surface, primarily in the Oostanaula.

“You’ve got to keep your eyes open,” Nelson said.

Nancy Packard, who finished second in the three mile kayak race, said she couldn’t wait to come to Rome when she found out about the races. She’s raced the Chattajack in Chattanooga several times and has experience on the Oostanaula up closer to Calhoun.

“It’s a wonderful river,” Packard said.

Teresa Koesler, from Knoxville, said she tries to enter as many as five races a year but this was the first time she paddled in Rome. She enjoys both paddleboarding and kayaking. She finished fifth in the three mile kayak race Saturday.

“Stand up paddleboarding is a lot harder,” Koesler said. “The big difference, I guess, is the total body workout standing up. It’s a different feeling.”

Local organizers Connie and Mike Sams, owners of the River Dog Outpost, said they are extremely pleased with the turnout and hope to grow the races in the future.

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