Idaho. Day One. Carnage on the river…
Today (Friday) was the opening day of competition here at the Payette River Games, the event that everyone’s been waiting despite most of us having very little idea what to expect.
Today it was the preliminary rounds, while Saturday is the second round and Sunday is the finals. That’s when the field will be whittled down to the serious contenders and the $50,000 prize purse will be settled. But if you wanna win the cash you’re gonna have to be a pretty darn good all around paddler because this is a rather unique SUP race…
The Payette River Games SUP race is actually split in two halves: The Downriver Race and the SUP Cross. Two totally separate races, with combined points determining the overall event placings.
The Downriver Race is an interesting mix of flat water and whitewater paddling. We start a mile or so upstream and then hammer it down a totally flat section of the Payette River, before entering the whitewater minefield. The opening stretch is flat and easy, however the final few hundred metres are super technical: We have to negotiate a series of buoys that are placed right beside the big ass rapid that is the main feature of Kelly’s Whitewater Park.
It’s tough. I didn’t even know what the term “ferrying” meant before this week but now I’m obsessed with getting it right. Not an easy task on a 12’6 race board that was clearly not designed for paddling in rapids…
But if the Downriver Race is tricky, the SUP Cross is an absolute mission. Because that entire race takes place in and around the main feature of Kelly’s, the big rapid/stationary wave.
The SUP Cross at the PRGs is like a course race on steroids. The whole race is probably only 400 metres long, however it takes a LONG time to back on course if the raging torrent suddenly grabs your rail, knocks you off and sends you downstream…
This is where the river guys and girls really come into their own, making the ocean paddlers look like kooks and showing that you don’t have to be the fastest or strongest to win, just the most technical.
It’s humbling. But it’s also a hell of a lotta fun.
So how did everyone perform today?
For the top guys and girls the prelims were fairly easy, especially in the Downriver Race. However for those of us who’ve never paddled rapids before, it was a mission to scrape through.
The Downriver Race was an individual time trial today: We set off at 20 second intervals and the 40 fastest guys and 20 fastest girls qualified for tomorrow. Saturday will see a change of format, with 4x heats of 10 in the men and 2×10 for the girls. The fastest 20 guys and fastest 10 girls will go through to Sunday’s finals.
Kai Lenny showed he’s an all-round freak of nature, pulling off a clean run and taking the fastest time of the day. Kai finished the 1.5 mile course in 10 minutes 34 seconds, just ahead of Fernando Stalla, Chuck Glynn and Travis Grant. Over on the women’s Candice Appleby staked an early claim for the $10,000 winner’s cheque, pulling off the quickest run of the day.
That was the Downriver Race. The easy one. Next up was the SUP Cross…
This is the main event this weekend. This one is fast, it’s exciting and it has lots of carnage to entertain the crowd, who are able to watch the entire race from start to finish. This also the race where the non-river guys start to look vulnerable. This is the race that’s gonna produce all the classic photos and video highlights.
But despite many top names being in uncharted waters, most of them stepped it up and go trough to tomorrow pretty comfortably. The top 40 guys and 20 girls will face off in more knockout heats tomorrow, before the top 20/10 go through to Sunday’s finals.
Kai looked good again and will be a clear favourite for the overall title, though some of the river guys look super smooth around this course and will give the big names something to chase.
This race is anyone’s game. It’s never over until it’s over and one small silp can send you from first to last (as I unfortunately found out today).
Kai is looking fast. Kody is looking fast. Feranndo is looking fast. Chuck Glynn has some serious river style. Slater Trout clearly knows what he’s doing. Austria’s Peter Bartl – very fast on the flat and technically sound on the rapids – is a serious darkhorse for the overall Top 5. The whitewater pioneers such as Mike Tavares and Dan Gavere are looking good. Even the Aussie ocean boys of Travis, Jamie and Kelly, who have never stepped foot on a river, all qualified for tomorrow.
Then there’s about half a dozen total dark horses. The river guys. These are the paddlers that have probably never done a downwinder in their lives but absolutely crush it in the rapids. Quite a few of them are kayakers who simply have the river dialed.
Oh and watch out for the Japanese paddler, Masayuki Takahata (aka Yacu). This guy has had the smoothest practice runs through all week and I’m tipping him as one of the favourites in the Cross.
But no matter what happens or who wins, this is gonna be an amazingly entertaining spectacle.
In fact this entire event is rather amazing. It’s not just a SUP race, it’s a festival. And a very well organised one at that.
If you wanna see how it all looks; Tomorrow we’ll have the live webcast running from 10am on. Watch it. It’s gonna be a hell of a show.
SATURDAY LIVE WEBCAST SCHEDULE
10:00am – Men’s Downriver SUP Race Round 2
10:45am – Women’s Downriver SUP Race Round 2
11:30am – Kayak “8 Ball”
12:30am – Raft Cross (you HAVE to watch this one… two-person teams charging through the rapids on inflatable rafts. Knockout format. 18 teams. Three teams per heat. This is gonna be SERIOUS carnage and entertainment…)
1:30pm – River Surfing
2:15pm – Kayak Cross
4:15 – Men’s SUP Cross Round 2
5:15pm – Women’s SUP Cross Round 2
6:00pm – Freestyle Kayak
(10am Saturday Idaho time = 9am California, 12 noon Florida, 6pm Central Europe and really, really late in Australia…)
Here are some aerial highlights from day one. Unfortunately a lot of the golden SUP carnage wasn’t captured, as our heats were later in the day. But this clip does give you a good idea of what it looks like: