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Paddle power

Jackie Auchard kept her stance firm and her paddle surging as she powered her stand-up paddleboard past other racers mired in the sketchy San Francisco Bay currents, circling Alcatraz Island and all the while wondering what was circling her.

"Sharks are always in the back of your mind, then sea lions pop their heads up right in front of you," Auchard laughs. "I'm pretty focused until that sea lion pops up. There's that split second when bad things might happen, but you can't stop."

Very few things have been able to stop Auchard and her 15-year-old son, Levi, these days as they make big waves on the standup paddleboard racing circuit along the West Coast, picking up wins and scoring a sponsorship as they work their way toward possibly turning pro next year.

Jackie Auchard, 45, was the overall winner in the women's division, and Levi took second in the junior division during the Battle of the Bay races Sept. 17-18 around Alcatraz, the latest of many trips to the awards podium for the Medford pair.

They hope to build on that momentum this weekend when hundreds of SUP racers compete in the Pacific Paddle Games off Dana Point in Southern California.

It's the last big SUP event for the year on the West Coast, where racers also compete in places such as the Columbia Gorge and the Bend area. It also caps a season in which the Auchards not only made a name for themselves on the circuit but also had the competition bug bite them even harder than ever.

"When you can compete every weekend or every-other weekend, it can really drive you," Auchard says. "It's taken off real quickly. We didn't know what the training was like. We did it just for fun. Then you start winning, and you take it more seriously."

They have been hopscotching the circuit since summer on the dime of Desolation Outdoors, which sponsors the pair. The company provides them with gear and travel money, while the Auchards offer feedback on the boards and market the company's products in this fast-growing water sport.

They are two of seven SUPers sponsored by Desolation Outdoors, and they rep their gear well, says Torben Yjord-Jackson, the company's owner.

"They're both very tough athletes," Yjord-Jackson says. "They just don't talk about it. They go out and do it, and they do it very well.

Yjord-Jackson says that's uniquely true of the quiet and shy Levi, a South Medford High School freshman who has been SUPing since his mom brought home the family's first board five years ago.

"He's so darn driven," Yjord-Jackson says. "To see that in a 15-year-old is something."

Stand-up paddleboarding traces its genesis to Hawaii, where natives have stood on surfboards and paddled around the open ocean for years. The watersports public took notice in the mid-2000s, and the sport has spread around the world.

Now it's not uncommon to see them on lakes and rivers — including the Rogue River — with many rafting liveries and outdoor stores now renting boards and paddles.

Conventional paddlers usually rely on 32-inch-wide boards because they are stable. Racers, however, trade stability for speed with the sleeker, lighter boards 24 to 28 inches wide.

SUP racing "came into its glory about four years ago," Yjord-Jackson says, which is when the Auchards started racing.

During the summer, they trained together almost daily, paddling the calm surface of Emigrant Lake or powering through the sometimes choppy top of Applegate Lake. Occasionally they travel to Brookings to get some ocean training in. With fall's short days and school, the pair try to log water time three day a week between races.

Auchard's trek through San Francisco Bay is a study in how she and racing both work.

In the first day of competition, a 7½-mile circuit around Alcatraz, she shaved about 10 minutes off her normal time despite the rough currents and chop of the bay, but still finished second.

"The next day, I was out for revenge," she says.

Day 2 featured a 4-mile technical race around buoys that tested racers' speed, power and mobility. She won that leg, powering her into the first place overall among women in one of her most challenging moments to date in SUP racing.

"You're always on edge," she says. "When you're in the bay, it was like, 'Oh, I wish I was on Emigrant Lake.' "

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Jackie Auchard and her son, Levi, of Medford, paddle at Emigrant Lake Tuesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch