In a couple of years, the entire landscape for American kayakers and the availability of training courses will change, the three-time Olympian and four-time world champion said.
Shipley, owner of S2O Design and Engineering in Lyons, Colo., the firm hired to design Oklahoma City’s MAPS 3 whitewater superpark, said the newest and most sophisticated course in the nation should bring huge events and dividends to OKC, including the U.S. Olympic Trials, large-scale adventure races and freestyle events.
“This will be a world-class facility and the most modern whitewater park in the world,” he said. “It will be the leading training facility for American kayakers.”
Shipley and his firm’s engineers designed the course for the 2012 London Olympics and the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C. It opened in 2006.
It’s a matter of time before the nation’s best kayakers come to OKC to begin their training for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“What I’ve heard is they’re just waiting for it to be built,” Shipley said. “I anticipate a lot of the top kayakers will come here to train.”
The former Olympian wishes these types of facilities had been available when he was competing.
“I spent 11 ½ months on the road, training in either Australia or Germany, because places like this and the one in Charlotte were not available. I dropped out of school eight times to train because I had to go to other countries. Now, we are creating a park at the crossroads of the country.”
The major events that OKC could attract would mean big paydays for the local economy. According to the S2O website, whitewater parks represent a return on investment up to 20 percent, with the project paying off in as little as six to seven years. The OKC project cost is estimated at $33 million.
The park also will serve as an attraction for non-boaters who prefer watching the action, shopping or eating.
According to preliminary plans, the facility will include buildings for meeting spaces, administrative offices, locker rooms and a restaurant. The course will be built alongside the Oklahoma River east of Lincoln Boulevard but will use city well water.
The whitewater course will be another major attraction to the OKC boathouse district that already includes a premiere rowing program and riversport adventures, including zip lines, rock climbing, cycling and on-the-water activities such as kayaking, dragon boating and stand-up paddle boarding.
OKC’s man-made course will be built with a state-of-the-art system that allows every rock to be adjusted while also moving waves upstream or downstream, depending on the event and skill level of the users.
“It’s literally a system that allows us to improve the whitewater park. It’s very new technology and adds to the performance characteristic part of the course and allows us to evolve with the sport,” Shipley said.
The course, however, isn’t restricted to world-class athletes.
“We’re going to create something that everyone can be a part of, whether you’re a novice or a high-caliber athlete,” Shipley said. “This will be for anyone who wants to be active. You can get out there and paddle or you can get out there and walk the channels. It’s not going to be like riding a ride. You will have to paddle wherever you want to go.”
S2O engineer Jeffrey Gustin told the Oklahoma City Council in a recent meeting that whitewater courses are designed for recreational and competitive uses. “The same courses can be navigated by a kayak or a raft,” he said.
Much like the Charlotte whitewater course, the OKC facility will likely turn into a regional attraction for first-time or novice users.
“The configuration of the course allows anyone from the geriatric group to the experts to use the course,” Gustin said.
Work crews are expected to break ground next spring with project completion slated for early summer 2015. S2O design engineers will present the project’s final plans to the council in January.