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Stand-up guy

The Mugger’s Alley rapid on the upper Rogue River is not a place to take casual — or even experienced — whitewater boaters to traverse, but then again Covey Baack isn’t you’re average dude.

The rapid is the easy way around Ti’lomikh Falls outside of Gold Hill, but even that is an understatement.

Big boulders, swirling water — and at the end of a rough chute is Mugger’s Rock standing in the way, ready to steal your lunch money and possibly punch you in the nose just because.

But there goes Baack, standing on his paddleboard and deftly side-stepping Mugger’s Rock like it was an old lady on a park bench.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Covey Baack maneuvers his paddleboard through rapids on the Rogue River near Gold Hill.

“Just stand up, see the water and paddle,” says Baack, 38, of Gold Hill. “Nothing’s better.”

And no one is better then Baack at whitewater stand-up paddleboarding, one of the nichiest of niche water sports that has taken off not only in the Rogue Valley but throughout the West.

To SUP-ers, Baack is their Iron Man

He owns what largely is regarded as the largest drop off a waterfall while still standing on his board — a 13-foot drop off Sunset Falls in Washington captured on video.

He’s also successfully stayed upright on a 12-foot drop at Butte Falls on Big Butte Creek — several times.

Baack is the GOAT of his ilk, the dude whose name is synonymous with traversing big drops on paddleboards more suited for quiet lakes or light sea swells.

It made this lifetime water-rat stand up out of his kayak shell and start experiencing whitewater on his soles.

“As soon as I stood up, I loved it,” Baack says. “That was it for me. Just to see the river this way is incredible.

“Then running waterfalls just became my style,” he says. “Essentially, waterfalls have been my bread and butter. And this is where it all began.”

The world might see Baack’s personal playground on the grandest of scales.

Whitewater advocate Steve Kiesling is in the midst of getting permits to reshape pieces of Mugger’s Alley to make it a whitewater competition course worthy of landing the 2028 Summer Olympics set for Los Angeles.

Kiesling believes the U.S. Olympic Committee may choose a makeshift Mugger’s Ally for its whitewater venue instead of building a $50 million course in the desert east of Los Angeles.

If accomplished, the $2 million project could generate as much as $7 million a year annually to the Gold Hill area, Kiesling says.

Until then, Mugger’s Alley will remain Baack’s backyard water palace in a sport he is helping define with every waterfall drop he executes.

Stand-up paddleboarding traces its existence centuries ago to the Hawaiian Islands, where surfers used paddles to help navigate the waves.

It showed up briefly in the U.S. in the 1920s, but was reintroduced about two decades ago in North America, with the help of Gold Hill-based Sawyer Paddles and Oars, which was building long, light paddles for stand-up canoers at the time.

It has since become one of America’s fastest-growing watersports. But most of the SUP-influence has been on soft water like lakes and reservoirs.

But envelope-pushers like Baack have been stand-up paddling whitewater for years and they’re not looking back.

Baack has made his name dropping over waterfalls, and still has the world record. But he can’t help but play on Mugger’s Alley, which he can run as if he was reading one of his kids’ nighttime books for the 100th time.

At 38, Baack is a grandpa in the big-water world, based strictly on his knees.

“They’re my shock-absorbers,” Baack says. ”And they’ve taken a beating.“

He wears knee braces whenever he paddles now. But he’s always looking for new waterfalls and other features to tackle.

And while early icons in niche sports like these often fade away as the next generation pushes forward, Baack doesn’t expect his Sunset Falls plunge record to go down the drain anytime soon.

“It’s not like someone’s going to get off the couch and nail a 15-foot waterfall,” he laughs.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.