A big goal of the Grand River Kayak Race is attracting families and children to experience the thrill of competing on a kayak, often for the first time.
As distinguished kayaker Rob Hartman stresses, there’s a strong possibility that once you experience the sport, it will become a lifelong activity.
Hartman, 43, a Reeths-Puffer graduate who now resides in Holland, knows first hand the sport’s appeal. He was drawn to kayaking from first watching Michigan native Greg Barton compete in the Summer Olympic games in Seoul, South Korea in 1988.
Hartman dove head first into becoming the best he could be in the sport and eventually ascended to joining the U.S. National Kayak Marathon Team in the 1990s. Since then, he’s been a regular competitor — and winner — in racing circuits across the Midwest, including the Grand River Kayak Race.
On Saturday, he said he’ll be content on merely being a spectator, as his two daughters — Olivia, 10, and Chloe, 9 — will each compete in the quarter-mile youth race.
“I’m bringing my entire family, so my focus will be on them,” he said. “Last year, my wife did the three-mile race and was the second-fastest finisher and won her age group. With my young girls, they see it as a fun thing, a low-pressure type of event. That helps keep them interested and draws them back.”
The fourth-annual event held at Felix’s Marina (14023 Green St., Robinson Township) is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m., with guest speaker John Holms highlighting topics that should appeal to many first-time kayakers, such as paddle stroke, speed differences and kayak designs. The racing follows at 9:30 a.m., with the cream of the crop taking their first strokes in the Grand River in the open division (ages 18 to 70-plus).
The youth solo and tandem divisions follows at 9:45 a.m. (6 to 17 years-old); and the amateur (18 to 60-plus) at 10:15 a.m.
Race organizer Karen Chapel of Lakeshore Kayak Rental in Grand Haven Township said they expect a strong turnout, with many highly skilled competitors in the eight-mile open division traveling from across the state.
“We’re seeing a better response in the eight-mile division than the three-mile for the first time,” she said.
Hartman and local kayaker Billy Bellinger said the course in unique because it is especially spectator-friendly, with many choosing to watch the action from the bridge on Stearn’s Bayou.
“Last year, I watched them go under the bridge six times,” Hartman said. “It does make it nice, because usually kayak races are not that spectator friendly. Usually, in a straight-line course, you’ll see them once and that’s it.”
“The spectators have a good time,” Bellinger added. “They’ll be waving and yelling (at the kayakers). They really like this.”
Chapel said medals will be awarded to the top three finishers in each age division, while the top male and female kayakers in the open division will take home a unique prize paddle.
The cost to enter is $10 for youth competitors and $25 for amateur/pros, with a race T-shirt being included.
To enter the race, visit lakeshorekayakrental.com, and for additional questions, contact Chapel at 616-566-1325.