Payette Games return with bigger prizes

Multi-sport games attract world-class athletes and weekend warriors.

rphillips@idahostatesman.comJanuary 29, 2014 

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Stand-up paddleboarders will “headline” this year’s Payette River Games June 20-22.

PROVIDED BY KRISTINA PICKARD

Move over, Hawaii. Cascade is trying to take over the center of stand-up paddleboard universe.

While the Central Idaho town may lack the tropical splendor of the islands, it’s making a big splash in the SUP world June 20-22 with the biggest purse ever paid for a stand-up paddling contest, according to event founder Mark Pickard.

He’s also the founder of Kelly’s Whitewater Park in Cascade and the moving force behind last summer’s inaugural Payette River Games.

In June, he ponied up tens of thousands of prize money and drew thousands of people to Cascade to compete and watch the games.

This year, he’s bringing it back and offering what he says is “The record purse in the world for SUP in a river, lake or ocean.”

Stand-up paddlers will compete for $50,000 in prize money, with the purse split equally between men’s and women’s contests and paying down 10 places in each.

Elite paddlers will race down the river at Kelly’s Whitewater Park and crash through the park’s rapids and navigate a series of buoys.

The race and purse are expected to draw paddlers from throughout the U.S., and internationally as well.

“We’re expecting the best of the best,” Pickard said.

He’s also adding SUP events for non-elite paddlers. There will be an out-and-back race on Lake Cascade for beginner and intermediate paddlers, and a flatwater river course upstream from the park that will avoid the park’s rapids.

Pickard said he’s highlighting SUP this year because it’s a fast-growing sport, and he believes he can draw competitors to Cascade and Idaho who may have never been here before.

Pickard and the park staff and volunteers also have a growing reputation for hosting big events.

They hosted two national whitewater kayaking events in 2011 and 2012.

Kayaking events in last year’s Payette River Games offered $40,000 in prize money and attracted the sport’s top paddlers.

This year’s games will continue to be a multi-sport event, with everything from dog fetching to fly fishing to disc golf to lumberjack contests — and many others — in addition to the water events.

Capitalizing on the whitewater park, Pickard will introduce a river surfing contest with $5,000 in prize money in this year’s competition. People will use surfboards to carve the standing waves at the park.

There will also be a new “raft cross” event with two to three people per boat, and rafts and equipment will be provided.

Three boats will run the course through rapids and around buoys and the winner of each heat will advance. There will also be $1,000 in prize money for the event.

The Payette River Games are open to all competitors. A local, weekend-warrior competes in the same venue as world-class athletes, but against people of similar ability.

The idea is to make a festival as well as a competition, and make it friendly for all-comers and unique to Idaho, Pickard said.

Even with high cash prizes, last year’s entry fees ranged from $5 to $65, with most being less than $25. This year’s entries will be similar.

While Kelly’s Whitewater Park is the headquarters, venues for events are spread throughout the Cascade area, including Tamarack Resort.

Events are also designed with spectators in mind, and there is lots of non-competitive entertainment, including food, music and attractions for kids. For details, go to payetterivergames.com.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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