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Paddlers: Stand up and cash in at King of the Rogue

GOLD HILL — Pete Newport is looking for a stand-up water rat with the guts and skills to do what he believes no other stand-up paddleboarder has ever done, and he's willing to put up a grand to see it happen.

No stand-up paddler has yet to claim that they've successfully run the Rogue River's three Class IV whitewater chutes at and around Ti'lomikh Falls — Mugger's Alley, Powerhouse and Grandma's runs, says Newport, president of Sawyers Paddles & Oars in Gold Hill.

So Newport is offering $1,000 to whomever can do so during Saturday's fourth annual King of the Rogue whitewater races, which are centered around these rapids. 

"We've been running that for four years, and to my knowledge, no one's been able to stand up through these rapids back to back to back," Newport says.

"I think it's a possibility," Newport says. "Now we're making it a challenge to see if the gear and skills are out there"

The SUP challenge highlights a day of racing through the middle Rogue's Class IV rapids to test racers' mettle, have fun and raise awareness and support for a proposed world-class whitewater park envisioned there by Newport and Steve Kiesling of the Gold Hill Adventure Center.

Paddlers will compete in various single and team events in both men's and women's categories from noon to 4 p.m.

Crowds can watch the races from vantage points off Upper River Road or Highway 234.

Last year's events drew about 60 kayakers and rafters as well as close to two dozen stand-up paddlerboarders.

SUPs are the latest rage among whitewater junkies.

Stand-up paddleboarding traces its genesis to Hawaii, where natives have stood on surfboards and paddled around for years. But professional surfers there started adding paddles to their repertoires, and the watersports-loving public took notice in the mid-2000s.

Sawyer helped fuel the sport's growth even though locals knew virtually nothing about it. In recent years, however, its popularity has spread to new ways to paddle through anything from calm lakes to wicked rapids.

Newport says he once tackled Grandma's Run's 8-foot drop and remained erect, but every trip he's taken through Mugger's Alley and Powerhouse turned into swims.

Those were part of the first two King of the Rogue stand-up competitions, but were removed last year in favor of more tepid rapids to make the competition more appealing to more SUPers.

"Now we've added it back, with style," Newport says. 

Those taking on the so-called "Crazy Pete Challenge" during today's competition will have to wear a Newport-provided GoPro camera to chronicle the feat and, of course, use a Sawyer-built SUP paddle.

"If we can get a GoPro and a Sawyer paddle through there, it's definitely worth $1,000," Newport says.

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

Jamie Billett takes a stand-up paddleboard through the Grandma's Run portion of Tiílomikh Falls on the Rogue River near Gold Hill in this file photo. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch