Paddling for the Biggest Purse in Whitewater History

Mj 618_348_paddlers compete for biggest prize purse in whitewater history

On Friday June 20, hundreds of athletes and thousands spectators will descend on the tiny town of Cascade, Idaho for the 2nd Annual Payette River Games, and a shot at a $100,000 prize purse. The bounty – which will be split evenly between kayak and stand-up paddleboard competitions – is the largest payout in the history of whitewater sports.

"The point is to get the best of the best in the world to come," says founder Mark Pickard, a Wall Street retiree with a second home near Cascade. "What better way to do that than to have a challenging course with a big purse?" Pickard is so serious about putting Cascade on the map for whitewater that he's personally funding the Games. Pickard also owns the venue that will host the Games, Kelly's Whitewater Park, which is a tribute to his wife's deceased sister.

The prize purse has made the biggest waves in the stand-up paddleboard community, where river racing is still in its infancy. "You just don't see money like that for stand-up paddleboarding," says professional paddler Ken Hoeve, who announces the Payette River Games. "Shit, you don't see money like that for kayaking."

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The result has been exactly as Pickard hoped. The best stand-up paddlers in the U.S., from the west coast to the east coast and all the rivers in between will be there, as well as the top international competitors. Hoeve says about 100 have registered so far.

"It's going to be a really interesting blend of ocean and river," says one of the top contenders, Michael Tavares, who spoke to us while driving from Colorado to Idaho in his RV, referring to the two distinct types of stand-up paddleboarding professionals. Ocean paddlers typically don't compete in river events, but the prize purse for the Payette River Games says otherwise. "The elite ocean paddlers mostly race in the bays, so they are really strong on flat water, but will be at a disadvantage in the rapids," Tavares explains.

Tavares, himself a river paddler, reports that the race course–a 1.5-mile stretch of the Payette River–has a large flat portion which will play to the ocean paddlers' strength. "But then it ends in Kelly's Whitewater Park, so it's really kind of anyone's game."

2014 Payette River Games from Kelly's Whitewater Park on Vimeo.

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