Interview Mark Pickard (Payette River Games organizer)
With large cash prizes, the Payette River Games has drawn significant attention in the paddling world over the past few years. This year, with a 100,000 USD cash prize, the event has gone to a place never seen before in paddlesports. We decided to catch up with event organizer Mark Pickard to hear from the source about this year’s events at the Kelly Whitewater Park in Cascade, Idaho.
KS: Where did the Kelly Whitewater Park idea/concept come from? How did the whole project come about ?
MP: Kelly’s was created for 2 reasons. The first, to have a legacy for my wife Kristina’s late sister Kelly, who passed away as a passenger in a car accident. The second was to provide an economic stimulus to Cascade, Idaho, a town that was suffering from nearly 30% unemployment due to the devastating economic downturn. The Mill Plant that employed nearly the whole town closed in 2001 and Cascade never recovered.
« Once you visit the snow-capped mountains of Cascade and visit Kelly’s whitewater Park you may never leave. »
KS: Where did the idea for the Payette River Games (PRGs) come from? Did you create the park with this event in mind?
MP: The park was initially built as a « kayak park ». However, over the years the surfers and stand up paddlers started to enjoy it as much, or more. The PRGs grew from solely a freestyle kayak event to the multi-sport event it is now because we wanted to have a diversified venue that appealed to everyone. The venue we have now caters to kayakers, but also to surfers, stand up paddlers, dog lovers, beach volleyball enthusiasts, etc. The idea to make it big and model it after the Go Pro Games was inspired by Ken Hoeve, a great friend of the Park and the PRGs
« We hope the women of the world of kayak and SUP support us and register ».
KS: Tell us more about the local impact the Park has made since its creation.
MP: We are most proud of Kelly’s Academy, which has provided over 2,250 hours of FREE lessons to the students of Valley County, Idaho. We teach them to kayak and stand up paddle, and this year for the first time, how to surf. We have world class instructors including Claire O’hara, Nikki Gregg and Elijah Mack teaching our kids. The school is unique in that it offers the children of Valley County, which still suffers from a high poverty rate, an opportunity to learn a new sport and to learn about river safety along the way.
« We want to help raise the profile of kayaking, SUP and river surfing »
KS: You’ve organized an event for the past two years, already with substantial cash prizes, but this year you have raised the bar to a level never seen in kayaking before. $105,000 in cash prizes ($50 000 for kayaking, $50 000 for Stand Up Paddling plus another $5,000 for Surfing)! Can you comment on that?
MP: Our goal with the large purse is to raise the bar of whitewater sports to the level it should be commensurate with the skill levels of the athletes. There are so many less skilled sports that have larger purses… We want to help raise the profile of kayaking, SUP and river surfing. Build it and they will come 🙂
KS: Also different from the normal trend in paddling is that you plan to give equal cash prizes for the women.
MP: Kelly’s Whitewatwer Park firmly believes in gender equality. It is profound that in other events where there is large female representation the women are not paid at an equal level to men. This is 2014 and Kelly’s is a park named after a female, so we wouldn’t have it any other way. We hope the women of the world of kayak and SUP support us and register.
KS: With the SUP events getting the same cash prize, you are going to be the center of the paddling world this year. Was that your goal?
MP: We are very excited to have 3 days of non-stop action on the river. There will be something for everyone to enjoy, from freestyle kayak, 8-ball and boater cross, to SUP cross and sprint, to river surfing, raft cross and dog fetch. The river surfing will be huge and we have lots of surfers coming.
KS: What should we know for this year’s event before booking our tickets and planning our vacation?
MP: Once you visit the snow-capped mountains of Cascade and visit Kelly’s whitewater Park you may never leave. It has happened to others, it could happen to you. Book a one-way ticket on Southwest Airlines—they seem to be kayak and boat friendly.
>>> watch the 2014 Payette River Games teaser
More info on the event and how to enter/visit : 2014 Payette River Games Website
Kelly Whitewater Park: http://www.kellyswhitewaterpark.com/