A pair of Pagosa Springs brothers are making a name for themselves in the world of competitive whitewater rafting and, in the process, representing the United States on the international level.
Jordan and Seth Kurt-Mason, ages 26 and 29 respectively, live in Vail and are one-third of the six-man U.S. Teva Whitewater Raft Team, which recently solidified its status as America’s top raft team in a Portland, Ore., competition.
The team recently placed first at the Clackamas Whitewater Festival in Portland — also the site of this year’s U.S. Rafting Association National Race — meaning they will represent the U.S. at the World Rafting Championship on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica this October.
“It’s a really cool feeling. It’s awesome to represent your country,” Jordan said. “Putting on the bib with the American flag on it is pretty unreal.”
Although still a “cool feeling,” representing the country is nothing new for the U.S. Teva Whitewater Raft Team, which is in its ninth year of representing the nation.
It’s also not a new feeling for Seth and Jordan. Seth has been part of the team for four years, while Jordan has been on the team for two. Additionally, Seth’s wife is the captain of the U.S. women’s team.
“It’s a Kurt-Mason kind of thing,” dad Lindsey Kurt-Mason jokes, adding. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Both Kurt-Masons, sons of Lindsey and Mary Kurt-Mason, got their start rafting on local river trips with their family, and a love for the sport grew with age, with both becoming river guides following high school.
Seth then served as a raft guide throughout the country before landing in Vail, where he met and raced against his now teammates.
Both Seth and Jordan have local raft guru Toby Rohwer to thank for their introduction to whitewater raft competition. Rohwer takes teams of river guides to competitions in Gore Canyon and was formerly involved with the U.S. team.
“Both Kurt-Masons took it way beyond the level I was ever able to achieve,” Rohwer said, adding, “They’re pretty much the heart and soul of U.S. rafting.”
Dad Lindsey said his sons’ positions on the team come with a definite perk — the opportunity to travel and watch the competitions.
“We’re happy because we get to go watch them,” Lindsey said, noting that they went to Europe to watch a competition and will be in Costa Rica this fall.
It’s also a unique opportunity for brothers to travel, train and bond.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s really neat to have him (Jordan) paddling with us. It’s a neat way to be able to travel the world with friends and family,” Seth said. “He’s a valuable contribution to the team.”
Lindsey, a soccer coach and physical education teacher, is also impressed with the level at which his sons train and compete.
“It’s pretty amazing. I think it’s really amazing that they’re doing it,” Lindsey said, adding, “You know, what I’m amazed at is the amount of work they put into it.”
The team trains year-round, both in the river in class IV and V rapids (in sun, rain or snow), as well as in pools and doing other fitness and cardio training, often training for hours at a time, four days a week.
“Those guys are tearing it up,” Rohwer said.
And the team hopes its training will pay off come October.
Seth said the highest the team has placed at world competition in his tenure is fourth place and one point (out of a thousand) away from a trip to the podium.
“We feel really good this year,” Seth said, noting that the team can read and run challenging courses due to their training on steep, Class IV and V rapids, while world competitions are normally run on Class III and IV rapids to allow for competition from countries that may not be able to train on higher-class rapids.
This year, however, the races will be run on Class IV and V rapids, which Seth hopes will give the Teva team a training advantage.
Seth said the team is also improving the slalom event, which they hope they can place in to help their overall standings.
While the world competition may be on their radar and possibly provide motivation for their training, Jordan says the team is looking forward to the upcoming season, during which they’ll compete in between seven and 12 events, including races in Buena Vista and the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, which is also a fund-raiser for the team.
In competitions, the team competes in four separate rafting events:
• Time trial — a sprint raced against the clock that counts for 10 percent of the overall score;
• Head-to-head Sprint — a race that pits two teams against each other in a series of heats until only one is left standing, worth 20 percent of the overall score;
• Slalom — a technically challenging event worth 30 percent of the overall score in which team members maneuver the raft through downriver and upriver gates. Touching or missing gates results in a time penalty; and
• Downriver — a race lasting 45 minutes to one hour through continuous, powerful rapids in which both technical skill and endurance are at the forefront, worth 40 percent of the overall score.
Events switch back and forth between six-man and four-man events each year, meaning last year was run with four men in the raft.
On the team with the Kurt-Masons are Captain Mike Reid, Chris “Mongo” Reeder, Todd Toledo, Andrew Bishop and Joe Sialiano.
To follow or support the team (they aren’t paid), visit their website, www.usaraft.org, “Like” them on Facebook, or keep up with their progress on their blog, www.usraftteam.blogspot.com.