BY CHRIS GRAGTMANS
The Payette River Games is the new juggernaut of paddlesports events.
Traditionally only a freestyle kayak competition, private financiers Mark and Kristina Pickard envisioned something bigger for Kelly's Whitewater Park. They wanted a truly elite event: a weekend that is all-inclusive, spectator- and athlete-friendly, featuring a variety of competitions, but positioning kayak and standup paddleboard competition as the focus.
From the perspective of an athlete in 2013 and spectator in 2014, they have achieved all of these goals.
The event was very hospitable to athletes from every discipline, with great food, hot tubs (!), music, and free camping. It also featured the biggest payouts in its two marquee sports ($10,000 to First Place in Men's and Women's SUP, $3,000 for Kayak Boatercross, and $3,000 for Kayak Freestyle) … and athletes were paid down to 10th place! Gerd Serrasolses (Spain) and Rebecca Giddens took home the big boatercross checks, while Mathieu Dumoulin (France) and Emily Jackson walked home with the freestyle kayak winning purses.
It is a marathon weekend of brutal competition, and there are a few tricks that can help get you through smoothly …
The river is refreshing, but this area of Idaho is dry and hot. Definitely bring plenty of sunscreen and shade for the three days of action!
Enter as many events as you can.
Think Michael Phelps on this one. The kayak athletes have the opportunity to enter Boatercross, 8-Ball, and Freestyle, and many of them also crossed over to the SUP events as well (with impressive Results). The elite SUP folks also competed in the river surf competition, as well as log rolling and axe throwing for some of them! And not to mention the dog fetching, volleyball, and the youth water competitions, which bookended these events.
Never ever quit.
This is the single biggest theme of this event. With the many mass-start formats, randomness is bound to occur, and you just never know what is going to happen. One notable upset was superstar waterman Kai Lenny dominating in SUP all weekend and then taking two pivotal falls to finish 10th in SUPCross and 4th Overall as Mexico’s Fernando Stalla took the win (Watch the SUP events HERE). The Boatercross event was also unpredictable, as last year's winner, Adriene Levknecht got knocked out in an early round. Ultimately the Top 3 in every event were those who kept a level head in the face of adversity and fatigue. That was inspiring to watch.
Roll with the punches.
That amount of prize money does strange things to the brain, and I know I would have been in the same boat had I been competing. The ability to be cool and not get too wound up was a separating factor for athletes.
Enjoy the community.
Ultimately, the best thing that can be taken from this event is a fantastic feeling of community. It is the only event of its kind in the world—uniting the best ocean SUP paddlers with whitewater paddleboarders, kayakers and surfers. There is tremendous mutual respect and just a fantastic vibe all around. One of the highlights was absolutely watching blind surfer Derek Rabelo catch and surf the challenging main feature at Kelly's Whitewater Park, and Anthony Vela capped the weekend off perfectly by drinking a booty beer out of Alec Voorhees's shoe!
Ultimately, paddlers departed from Idaho with a variety of emotions, but a uniform resolve to come back and throw down again next year. The Pickards promised to make 2015 bigger and better than ever, and something tells me they will live up to this vow …