Payette River Games 2015
Words: Justin Hammond | Photos: Danny Braught
The Payette River Games at Kelly's Whitewater Park has come to a close, but people will be talking about it until next year's event. The only thing that shadowed the amount of raw talent on the water was the exuberant attitudes demonstrated by all of the athletes. It was essentially one big family reunion.
None of this would have been possible without the generosity and ingenuity of Mark and Kristina Pickard, who built this park in loving memory of Kristina's sister Kelly Brennan. Their hospitality has not only created a mecca for us lovers of water, but has single handedly driven summer revenue for the mountain town of Cascade, Idaho.
It is truly majestic here. Every morning the sun rises over the mountain tops in a cascade of colors, only to recede at night to uncover the blanket of stars and passing meteorites. The locals are all more than courteous and provided all of us with great stories and history of the area. That and some amazing food. All in all, I could totally live here!
The competition was packed with cheering spectators, vendors, and even other athletes, all shouting words of encouragement. This river is no walk in the park however. Flowing at roughly 1800-2000 cubic feet per second, and offering up whitewater and river waves, the athletes really had their work cut out for them. From ocean surfers to flat water paddlers, each was forced to their limit conquering the daily changing course.
The women's heats were nail-biting paddle battles with only a 3 point deficit between first and second place. Rebecca Giddens, widely known for her appearances slalom canoeing in the summer Olympics, took the top spot on the podium and the $10k purse. The competition was fierce and Fiona Wylde gave her a literal "run for her money." The dedication and mental preparation was evident in all of these paddlers. One trip down the river made this novice paddler have a greater appreciation for the amount of work that goes into preparing for this race.
Mo Freitas, 17 year old big wave surfer from Hawaii, took everyone by surprise. He threw down the fastest line of the competition, took home $10,000 cash money, and he had never even paddled on a river before. That was only one of the many inspiring tales that this trip produced. 14 year old Miles Harvey threw down some serious board control and mental dedication to overtake, and almost win, the SUP Cross event. Derek Rabelo, a big wave surfer from Brazil, was born blind and demonstrates what it truly means to overcome life's obstacles. Also from Brazil, Jonas Letieri suffered from electrocution while volunteering at his church that led to both of his arms being amputated. This guy, with his custom shaped paddle, literally proved that there are no excuses when he shot through the rapid and executed a textbook cross-stern turn that led him to finish line and on to the next heat. These guys are the people's champions!
I also want to give some serious credit to all of the volunteers that helped out with this event. Without you this would not have been possible. All of the work and organization that went into the race, along with the perfect weather conditions, opened my eyes to a side of SUP that I had not before experienced. Whitewater is a whole other breed of animal, and surely it will lead to SUP racing in the summer Olympics very soon. Use caution, learn to read the water, wear your protective gear, and then get out there and have some fun!