Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Eagle Landing Resort in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Eagle Landing Resort in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Crowds and close finish mark 16th annual Cooper Landing regatta

Two boats opened the race neck and neck

More than half a dozen drift boats braved rapids, rocks and sore forearms Saturday as they raced from Eagle Landing Resort to Sportsman’s Landing during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta.

Crowds gathered on the riverbank to watch the boats pass by at several points along the route. After the boats passed from view around the first bend, the crowd raced to their cars and moved about a mile down the Sterling Highway to a pull-off across from the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge. When the boats again passed by, they moved again down the route.

The race was close, much closer than usual, attendees said. Two boats opened the race neck and neck. They remained that way — often bumping into one another — until a tight finish just before the boat retrieval at Sportsman’s Landing.

The Cooper Landing Chamber of Commerce said on Facebook that the first- and second-place finishers were separated by “only a minute.”

Tommy Balk and Shawn Coe landed that first-place finish for the third time.

“It was a hard-fought battle, but it was neck and neck,” Balk said after the race. “I’ve never raced in a race like that.”

The regatta is “a huge gathering” for Cooper Landing, Balk said. He said there’s an “awesome community” that comes together for the event, both as individuals and as businesses.

For more information about the Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta, visit facebook.com/CooperLandingChamber.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Eagle Landing Resort in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Eagle Landing Resort in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Eagle Landing Resort in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Eagle Landing Resort in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Eagle Landing Resort in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Eagle Landing Resort in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Eagle Landing Resort in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Eagle Landing Resort in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants race down the Kenai River during the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta near the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Contestants celebrate after completing the 16th Annual Cooper Landing Drift Boat Regatta at Sportsman’s Landing in Cooper Landing, Alaska, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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