HAMPDEN, Maine — No two river races are alike, as they tend to present different challenges to paddlers depending on water conditions.

Those who took to the chilly waters of the Souadabscook Stream for the Eliot Lamb Memorial Souadabscook Stream Race on Saturday were greeted with the typical challenging whitewater and rapids that the eight-mile race present — a vastly different encounter than the season-opening St. George and Passagassawakeag River Races.

“Every year this is the most difficult race that we have,” said kayaker Ben Randall of Sabattus, who participated in last weekend’s Waldo County “double dip” with the Passagassawakeag and St. George races.

“It’s got the biggest whitewater and it’s all linked back to back so you don’t have a whole lot of time to prepare,” Randall said.

The race commemorated Lamb, a 2011 Orono High School graduate, who helped start the canoe racing team at the school. Lamb, described as an avid canoeist and whitewater enthusiast on the race’s Facebook page, died at age 22 in an accident while working for a tree removal service in December 2015.

On Saturday, the quick-flowing rapids gave area paddlers a final tuneup for next weekend’s Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, and there were plenty of thrills and chills along the eight-mile route from the Bog Road bridge to the Hampden Water District building.

The rapids were flowing at the Emerson Mill Road bridge, always a popular spectator viewing point, and they were more challenging than in recent years thanks to a late-winter barrage of snow and rain.

“We kind of want the snow because that means we’re going to have a bigger runoff,” Randall said. “If you try to run these things [a] month and a half [from now], you’re not going to have any water.”

Even though Randall noted that the Emerson Mill bridge rapids were the largest he’s seen in the handful of times he’s participated in this event, he navigated them smoothly in his solo kayak.

“It seems to me like it’s gotten bigger every year,” said Randall.

The other significant trademark of the spring paddling season is the variety of paddlers who take on the waterways. It brings out those like Randall who are competitive, but also entertains and challenges others who are taking to the waters for the purpose of recreation and fitness.

The latter aspect is one that University of Maine student Benjamin Koehler enjoys, as he’s heavily involved in the university’s Outing Club.

Koehler, a senior mechanical engineering major, works with a program on campus known as MaineBound and teaches kayaking and paddling to students.

“We teach clinics in the pool,” said Koehler, who participated in Saturday’s race in a two-person canoe with his girlfriend.

Koehler said MaineBound is owned and funded by UMaine and is able to obtain a lot of nice gear for students to learn the tricks of paddling.

“I think it’s really good to kind of establish a culture of whitewater paddling at the school,” he said. “It gets students out on the river.”

There were a few UMaine paddlers out on the Souadabscook on Saturday, but expect more on the Kenduskeag Stream next weekend.

“Reggae Festival this weekend is kind of stealing some of our people,” Koehler admitted, “but next weekend [for] the Kenduskeag, we’ll have quite a few of them.”

Koehler said the funding from UMaine allows the school’s Outing Club to rent gear from MaineBound for paddling trips.

“We can run as many trips as we want,” he said.

As for Randall, who will return to the area for the Kenduskeag Stream race next weekend, he typically has a feeling of apprehension when he paddles to the starting line in the Souadabscook Stream Race.

“This one, I’m nervous before I do it because it’s such big water, but once you’ve done this one all the other ones seem pretty tame,” said Randall.

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Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports freelancer Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins.