In what can only be described as a major bummer, the Payette River Games, one of the biggest, best and most beloved SUP races on the calendar, has been put on hold and may not return in 2016.
After the 2015 edition was held a few months ago, where Mo Freitas and Rebecca Giddens triumphed and the exciting spectacle was televised on CBS Sports, organisers decided they couldn’t continue financing and organising the event without additional corporate support.
The PRGs team has been seeking a big sponsor to help the major event break even but couldn’t find a willing suitor, so despite PRG16 still being nine months away they’ve bravely made the call now to avoid disrupting next year’s international schedule.
It’s sad news for sure, however it’s also quite understandable. The event, which set many new standards for our sport, probably has one of the biggest budgets in the world of SUP. That budget was largely financed by the generosity of Mark Pickard and his wife Kristina, while Mark was also the main organiser of the whole show (which must have been a full time job in itself).
The event isn’t totally done though: Mark and Kristina have offered free use of their host venue, Kelly’s Whitewater Park in Cascade, Idaho, to any group that wants to organise a river race next year. The event could still be called the Payette River Games as well, so this seems like less a cancellation and more of a “put on ice” kind of situation.
But no matter what happens, the paddling world should send Mark, Kristina and the whole PRGs crew a massive thank you for what they’ve given us over the past few years, and for how they’ve helped push the sport to new heights.
I was fortunate to see quite a bit of what happened behind the scenes at the Payette River Games, where Mark, Kristina, the third member of the organising committee Nikki Rota, race director Dan Gavere and their entire support team worked tirelessly to provide a world class event.
I spoke with Mark today and while he won’t be personally organising a race in Idaho next year, he was hopeful a third party would step up and make use of the excellent venue. Either way, he and his team will continue to expand Kelly’s Whitewater Park, a major feature for the country town of Cascade and the surrounding region.
I imagine this wasn’t an easy decision for the Pickards, who were personally involved in almost every aspect of the event. They’re very passionate about the sport and always seemed as stoked as any fan to hang out with the athletes and watch them battle it out on the water.
In its three year history, the Payette River Games quickly established itself as one of the premiere international stand up paddling events. The 2013 race was modest, however the PRGs instantly caught the paddling world’s attention by announcing a record prize purse of $50,000 for its second edition. That remained in place for the 2015 event, and will only be topped by the $55k of the Pacific Paddle Games next month.
PRG15, with its new & improved format devised by whitewater pioneer Gavere, also had the distinction of being broadcast on CBS Sports, in what was probably the best TV production the sport has ever seen. To top it off, the event went above and beyond in looking after athletes and became a sentimental favourite for many of the world’s best paddlers. It was considered the “Funnest Event of the Year” by many of those who made the trek to Idaho, no matter whether they mastered the whitewater or were completely humbled by the rapids.
Off the water, Payette became famous for its novelty acts such as axe throwing and lumberjack competitions, while this year there was the introduction of the entertaining beach flags tournament.
Though above all else the PRGs had one huge asset: Exciting racing.
It may sound odd coming from a guy whose life revolves around the sport, but I’m the first to admit SUP racing can be rather boring. Most races are long, drawn out affairs on flat water that offer very little in the way of action or excitement. Unless there are waves (or a very unique format), most races are for the hardcore fans only.
But Payette gave us something else: Whitewater. Although river SUP has existed for years, the PRGs put it on the international stage and made it a legitimate form of racing. In my opinion, the Payette River Games is/was the most exciting SUP race in the world.
So thank you to Mark, Kristina, Nikki, Dan and the whole team from Kelly’s Whitewater Park for the fun ride. Let’s just hope someone takes the event out of the freezer before next summer so we can all meet up in Idaho once again.
It’s actually been a big year for big events being canceled, postponed or put on ice…
Rainbow Sandals caused a stir when it announced the Battle of the Paddle was scrapped for 2015 and would be unlikely to return in the future. Fortunately that big weekend in October was filled with the new Pacific Paddle Games, which is shaping up as a worthy successor to the BOP.
Elsewhere, the Waterman League’s efforts to establish a pro world tour, the Stand Up World Series, canceled three of its first four events this year (Abu Dhabi, Germany and Brazil), while the Ultimate SUP Showdown quietly faded into the shadows in 2015 after big hype surrounding the 2013 and 2014 editions.
That’s half a dozen big losses for the international SUP racing world, though hopefully the Payette River Games is only being temporarily put on ice, not permanently out to pasture.
In the meantime here’s the official letter from Mark, Kristina and Nikki announcing today’s big news:
Dear PRG athletes, sponsors and fans
We are grateful that the PRGs rose to be one of the premiere whitewater events of the year however we have not been successful in attracting a sufficient amount of financial sponsorship support to become self-sustaining. This has put the financial burden on us personally to underwrite the vast majority of the costs to operate the PRGs since its inception.
The Payette River Games was initially established with the hope of creating an economic stimulus to Cascade, Idaho and to promote the whitewater sports of SUP, kayak and surfing. We tried to raise the bar for all 3 sports with high purses and exposure on live-stream and CBS Sports, all while instilling a holistic and organic experience. We were hopeful large corporate sponsors would take over both the financial and physical obligations but that hasn’t happened. After deep reflection and with heavy heart we sadly announce that we will not be hosting the Payette River Games in 2016.
We want the competition flame to continue at Kelly’s and we believe we have the perfect venue to hold world-class events. We just can’t be the financial engine to do it anymore, nor can we commit the extensive time it takes to pull it all off. We are hopeful some entity takes ownership of it and we encourage any race organizer or group that is interested in holding a whitewater event at the park to approach us. We will gladly consider allowing you full use of the park for free. ‘
The economic stimulus in Cascade will still continue under “Kelly’s Green Project”. We recently bought 90 acres contiguous to Kelly’s Whitewater Park and together with other not for profit groups in the community we will build a beautiful 100 acre Green Park. Kelly’s Green Project will be built on property that was formerly a lumber mill plant and labeled a brown field.
We thank all of our past sponsors that believed in us, we extend our sincere gratitude to the countless volunteers and for the support of the entire town, a special thanks to Dan Gavere and tons of thanks to the captains who were integral in making the PRGs a success. Finally, our utmost thanks to the athletes who came from afar to our small town in Idaho to witness life on the river.
With deep admiration for all of you,
Mark & Kristina Pickard and Nikki Rota