In New Mexico, Mother's Day weekend means whitewater races

For 60-plus years, this Mother's Day kayak and raft tradition still makes a big splash


Mother's Day Rio Grande Whitewater Races, the second oldest, organized river race in the country, will once again host kayakers and rafters, canoers, spectators, campers and "Dutch oven cook-off" competitors, May 11-13.

The races will be held on the 4.5-mile, Class III section of the Rio Grande known as the "Racecourse," which begins south of Taos in Pilar, and runs along State Road 68. The three-day event is being hosted by the New Mexico River Outfitters Association, the Adobe Whitewater Club, the American Whitewater Association, and the American Canoe Association.

The schedule of events includes two nights of camping and social gatherings at the Rio Bravo Campground in Pilar, a Dutch oven cook-off and potluck dinner Friday evening (May 11). A full day of organized races Saturday will include short and long kayak races, a stand-up paddle board race, kayak slalom, "down river rodeo" at Albert's Falls, a family race, and four-and six-person raft races. Sunday offers a community, "on your own" paddle in the morning as well as Kayak New Mexico's adaptive paddle session for special-needs river runners. Spectators are invited to attend, free of charge.

The Mother's Day Races were founded in the 1950s by Los Alamos paddle boater and LANL employee, Jim "Stretch" Fretwell. After competing at Colorado's FiBark for many years, Fretwell decided to start a paddle race closer to home on the Rio Grande, now known as the Pilar Racecourse.

The races were supported by Los Alamos' Explorers: Post 20, The Atomic City Citizens Band Radio Club and the Los Alamos Fire Department to name a few. By the late 1960s, an estimated 2,000 spectators leapfrogged their way downstream on State Road 68 to watch rafts and kayaks twist and turn through the whitewater.

Fretwell eventually handed it over to the Adobe Whitewater Club who valiantly ran the races for more than 30 years until they handed it over to NMROA in 2008. This year, NMROA wants to expand the races and welcomes spectator, racer and sponsor enthusiasm and support.

"At 61 years in the making, the New Mexico Mother's Day Whitewater Races are both a time-honored tradition and a hidden gem," said Matthew Gontram, of NMROA and owner of New Mexico River Adventures. "The races offer serious challenges for serious boaters, and they give recreational paddlers a great chance to play on the river with family and friends."

Camping reservations can be made on a first-come, first serve basis by going to by calling (575) 758-8851. All racers are required to register for their events and online preregistration is strongly encouraged. To register for races, go to Helmets are required for all racers and participants.

Special room rates for the whitewater races are being offered at the Sagebrush Inn & Suites in Taos while supllies last. Those interested must book before April 18.

For more information about Kayak New Mexico's adaptive kayak programs and the Sunday morning adaptive paddle event, go to or contact Jane Bales at (505) 980-7207.

More schedule and event details can be found

"It's a great time of year to be in Northern New Mexico," said Gontrum. "We can't wait to see everyone on the river."

-Staff report