Learn more about RIVERSPORT Rapids

Monday, July 11, 2016 9:00 am

Oklahoma City’s new $45 million MAPS 3 whitewater rafting and kayaking center – RIVERSPORT Rapids – celebrated its grand opening in May and is a game changer for Oklahoma City. Read more from Elizabeth Laurent, senior director of sales and marketing for the OKC Boathouse Foundation, on all that RIVERSPORT Rapids will have to offer.

Chamber: Tell us more about the course. What types of athletic and recreational activities does it offer?
Laurent: RIVERSPORT Rapids is one of only three man-made whitewater centers in the U.S., so it is one more thing in our growing list of unique features that sets Oklahoma City apart from other cities. We offer incredible recreational rafting, kayaking and tubing experiences, and people will also see elite athletes from around the world training and competing on the slalom channel. Even if you’re not ready to get on the water, you’ll enjoy watching all the action from the new restaurant overlooking the entire center.

Who can use the center? What kinds of opportunities does it offer for middle and high school students? College athletes? Elite athletes? Average residents?
Laurent: People may be surprised at how much excitement RIVERSPORT Rapids brings to our city. Rafting is accessible to just about anyone. You don’t need any previous experience and our guides will make it fun for everyone. We’ll also offer tubing with the rapids slowed down a bit, and we have “floating films” where people can watch movies from a tube in the lower pond.

We see people getting into the rafting and tubing, and also into the music and other activities – like 5k runs –that will be hosted. Our “all access” passes include whitewater plus all of the Adventures in the Boathouse District such as the SandRidge Sky Trail, zip lines, pump track, climbing walls and more. It is a great vacation or “staycation” destination.

Metro-area residents will receive a discount on day passes Monday through Thursday as a thank-you for supporting the one-cent tax that made this and other MAPS projects possible.

Even people who don’t want to get on the water will enjoy coming to RIVERSPORT Rapids. There’s no charge to come in, so you can walk around and just enjoy watching other people raft and kayak. We’ll also have a restaurant and retail store.

Youth who are interested in slalom have the opportunity to train on the course and compete regionally and nationally. We fully expect to have young athletes start their paddling careers here and in the coming years to be competing at an Olympic level.

We take reservations for field trips and end-of-year experiences that include a behind-the-scenes tour. We can also do field trips that focus on science and technology.

College students are big recreational rafters and RIVERSPORT Rapids offers great group experiences for clubs and sororities/fraternities. We’re also looking for college students to work as raft guides and in other areas.

On the elite side, athletes from across the country travel to Oklahoma City to train at RIVERSPORT Rapids and in May, we hosted the U.S. Olympic Team Trials-Canoe/Kayak Slalom.

When planning the design of the course, what cities/facilities did you look to for inspiration?
Laurent: Visits were made to whitewater centers in Germany, London, Charlotte, N.C., and Maryland to identify the best elements of each venue and learn from their experiences. RIVERSPORT Rapids was designed by the same team – Scott Shipley and S2O – that developed the U.K.’s Lee Valley White Water Centre for the 2012 London Olympics. The U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte was also built by the same team.

Like Charlotte, we combined whitewater rafting and kayaking with other outdoor adventure activities. Charlotte’s center has been highly successful even though it is located about 20 minutes outside the city. Oklahoma City’s whitewater center is within walking distance of Bricktown and is located at the crossroads of the nation at Interstates 35 and 40.

How does this facility set Oklahoma City apart as a paddlesports facility?
Laurent: Oklahoma City has one of the best – if not the best – whitewater courses in the world. We are also the only place in the world offering world-class whitewater and flatwater canoe/kayak in the same place. We bring paddle sports to a broader range of people than ever before.

As home to USA Canoe/Kayak, the governing body for the sport in the U.S., the course will attract new races to OKC, and we know athletes are already planning to move here to train. The International Canoe Federation has also contacted us about the possibility of hosting international events.

But more than that, RIVERSPORT Rapids makes it possible for people in Oklahoma City to make whitewater kayaking and rafting a part of their everyday lives. Just like people who live near the mountains go snow skiing, we add a whitewater facility as another place to get outside and be active.

And what does the facility do for Oklahoma City as a whole?
Laurent: RIVERSPORT Rapids sets Oklahoma City apart from other cities across the U.S. We are the only place in the country – maybe in the world – to offer experiences like this within walking distance of downtown hotels and restaurants. It is expected to bring in significant tourism dollars as the whitewater center attracts vacationers across the region. We also have swiftwater rescue training which will attract first responders from across the U.S. All of this adds up to new revenue for hotels, restaurants and merchants in the city.

Beyond tourism, whitewater brings a whole new set of opportunities for metro area residents – it really will be a lifestyle change for many people. We will have corporate rafting teams, so at work you may find yourself signing up for the spring whitewater raft race. Kids can come to whitewater camp, and if they like it, join the whitewater kayaking team. College kids will learn to be raft guides and we’ll have a whole range of people coming down for music events and runs. Just as the river has become a center of community activity, we see the whitewater center taking it to the next level.

What kind of buzz or excitement are you hearing from outside of Oklahoma City?
Laurent: We’ve already had a lot of interest from paddlers across the country eager to try the new course, and as I mentioned earlier, the ICF is interested in having international events here. We’ve also had significant interest from the US Olympic Committee. This is a great asset for our whitewater paddlers and just adds to Oklahoma City’s value as a US Olympic and Paralympic Training Site.

What questions are people asking about the facility?
Laurent: People want to know how long the course is (1,300 feet for the competitive channel; 1,600 feet for the recreational channel), how much water it takes to fill it up (8 million gallons), and where will the water come from (a combination of ground water and city water. It doesn’t have river water in it). They also want to know how long the rafting experience will be (about 90 minutes) and if we think they can do it (yes!).

Learn more about Oklahoma City's whitewater course at www.riversportokc.org