Race participants with their gear and kayaks Saturday, April 20, wait for the countdown to their turn down the falls in the Smalls to the Walls Race at Smalls Falls in Township E. Rebecca Richard/Franklin Journal

TOWNSHIP E — The Smalls to the Wall steep creek kayak race triumphantly returned on April 20 after a hiatus due to challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic. It attracted seasoned paddlers and spectators to the picturesque setting of Smalls Falls near Rangeley. The first race took place in 2014.

“We’ve brought on Great Falls Foundation as a partner in putting on this event and have made the steep creek race part of a series of whitewater races that are held each summer in Maine on the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers,” explained Alexandra Horne, one of the race organizers and winner in the women’s division.

The race started off on a chilly morning with light rain, yet despite the weather, people crowded around to watch the race. Children and dogs joined the spectators, adding to the lively atmosphere. Spectators had to cross over a bridge to climb and hike up a hill to be able to see the race.

Horne said, “It’s a beautiful set of waterfalls that flow one after another in a section of river about a tenth of a mile long.”

Horne said the waterfalls range from 5-20 feet in size, and paddlers must be ready for each drop after landing the one before it. “For this reason, athletes have to be comfortable kayaking class V rapids and have previous experience with whitewater kayaking on waterfalls,” Horne explained. “This is a niche sport, with a small, tight-knit community in Maine, and therefore race organizers often know the racers that are showing up and what kind of skills they have.”

“Flows of 130 cfs [cubic feet per second] are needed for Smalls Falls Proper,” said Horne. “We had 162 cfs yesterday at race time. This was a perfect flow for the race.”


Horne said there were no changes this year. “We continued the format of hosting two races, one on Chandler Stream Falls [an easier course, class IV] and one on Smalls Falls [class V].”

The Smalls to the Wall race on Saturday, April 20, is exciting for the racer and spectator at Smalls Falls in Township E. Rebecca Richard/Franklin Journal

“The race isn’t just about speed; it’s about strategy, skill and sheer determination,” emphasized Horne. She said each drop presents a unique challenge, requiring precision and focus to navigate safely.

To encourage participation among paddlers that are not comfortable kayaking Smalls Falls, race organizers also offer a course on Chandler Mill Falls [located at the same location as Smalls Falls]. “This section of the river is a series of slides that kayakers race down,” Horne said. “Though the consequences are not as significant as Smalls Falls, this also requires experience to be able to paddle.” Both these races are the same length and take between 30 seconds and 1 minute to complete.

Horned said there was an extensive safety set on both sides of the waterfalls to help participants that may end up outside of their kayaks. This is something that can happen if a racer has a bad “line” and cannot recover before the next waterfall. “Each racer has two opportunities to lay down the fastest time possible,” Horne said.

“I think the race went really well this year,” Horne said. “We were excited to have the right flows to be able to run the main event [Smalls Proper]. We had a really good turn out with about twenty kayakers coming out this year from all over the country.”

In the men’s division, Lyndon Williams emerged as the male winner, demonstrating exceptional skill and agility. “The race comes at you fast, with about 80 feet of free-fall over the space of 30 seconds,” said Williams, recounting the exhilarating challenges of navigating the course. “It’s a unique challenge with little room for error but incredibly rewarding. It’s probably the most stacked whitewater race I’ve ever competed in on the global circuit.”


Lyndon Williams and Eddy Mead both had successful runs Saturday, April 20, in the Smalls to the Wall Race at Smalls Falls in Township E. Williams was the winner of the male category. Courtesy photo/Lyndon Williams

This was Williams’ first time at the Maine Whitewater Championships. “I came along with Pyranha kayaks teammate and good friend Eddy Mead who also won this year’s Chandler race five days after completing the Boston Marathon and our excitement was high from the beginning,” Williams said.

Williams said on his first run he managed to link the combinations he needed well to get a good time, but the racing was super tight with only 0.01 seconds between himself and Riley Adams who came in second.

Williams said the water levels were perfect for the race and the safety cover was highly professional. “As you paddled down the course you could hear the crowd cheering, it felt like the whole local community had come out to spectate which was spine tingling,” Williams said.

Horne said she was excited there were four women that came to compete on the Chandler Mill section, and she is looking forward to growing the women’s division. “I’m stoked to have competed again this year since last competing in 2021. I think this is one of the coolest and most unique whitewater kayak races in the country and we’re excited to spread the word about the event moving forward.”

A dog has a great view of the Smalls to the Wall Race Saturday, April 20, sometimes giving out a bark as the racer zoomed past at Smalls Falls in Township E. Rebecca Richard/Franklin Journal

Horne expressed hope for reviving industry and securing local sponsors for 2025. The primary goal for 2024 was to restore the race, she said.

Winners of the 2024 Smalls to the Wall Steep Creek Kayak Race:


Men’s Division, Smalls Falls:
1. Lyndon Williams – 33.58 s [seconds]
2. Riley Adams – 33.59 s
3. Zach Perrault – 33.94 s

Women’s Division, Smalls Falls:
1. Alexandra Horne – 40.02 s

Men’s Division, Chandler Mill Falls:
1. Eddie Mead – 52.3 s [Tied with Riley Adams]
2. Miles Puleio – 53.2 s
3. David Wells – 54.9 s

Women’s Division, Chandler Mill Falls:
1. Jessie Sterling – 1:14 m [minutes]
2. Saige Purser – 1:20 m
3. Olivia – 1:21 m

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