Featured Athlete – Kurt Kincel

This week’s featured athlete is Kurt Kincel.

“Running Lava Falls in the dark was an adrenaline rush above all else.”

Kurt Kincel, an arborist and owner of Alpine Design and Horticultural Services who lives in Edwards, Colorado, has joined the 9 Ball raft team to represent as Team USA at two world championships so far. He has competed in Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates, and now he’s training for a third: the 2017 World Rafting Championship in Japan’s Koboke Gorge on the Yoshino River, a section known for flips and swims. Recently, however, Kurt and the team changed up their style of training with a unique goal in mind. In January 2017, the team, along with a few guest athletes, rowed the Grand Canyon in a custom designed inflatable with a goal of breaking the current speed record. Their goal was to travel 277 miles in 34 hours, nonstop. Until Lava Falls, they were on course to break that record.

USRA: What was the hardest part of the speed record attempt?

Kurt: The sleep deprivation. I’d never been awake that long. It was going to be about 40 hours and wound up being more like 60. We were deliriously tired.

USRA: How did training for this differ from training for raft races?

Kurt: It’s totally different. It’s moderate exercise, but it just doesn’t stop. So you’re rowing for hours to train instead of paddling with these short, intense bursts. It was completely different.

USRA: What was the most unique aspect about speed rowing the Grand?

Kurt: Running Lava Falls in the dark was an adrenaline rush above all else. Running Lava at night with off road lights shining from the boat at 19 or 20 hours in was absolutely my highlight. I was turned around to face it instead of rowing backward into it like most of the guys, and all you could see was the face of the next wave. It was surreal. We got almost to the bottom and I was yelling about the amazing run we’d just had through Lava Falls at night. It was great. And then the tube popped. As loud as Lava Falls is, we could hear the air escaping the tube over the sound of the rapid. It was happening so fast, and that side of the boat was just sinking. Even after it happened, I was still optimistic about it. We pulled over and I figured this is going to be a quick fix. We’ll patch the boat and be on our way. But that turned into a two-hour long repair with trying to make glue stick on something cold and wet. It just didn’t work. But the teamwork out there was incredible. To have that happen and then still be pushing after. It was just such a great team experience. After spending that much time together to prepare and then on the actual attempt, there was a bond secured as friends. This was very strong. You get to see each other under a different kind of stress. It brought us closer.

USRA: Would you do it again?

Kurt: I swore I wouldn’t! But on the drive home we were already coming up with ideas of how to do it. We had amazing lines. We’ll see. I would do anything for those guys.