Although he had never been on the Clark Fork River before, Adam Frye of Hawaii saw a sign for Sunday’s Windermere Real Estate SUP Cup and decided not only to enter, but to try the elite category.
“I’m a little nervous," said Frye, who is vacationing in Missoula. "Looking at some of these boards, those people are pretty serious about this."
The stand-up paddleboard race was organized by agents with Missoula’s Windermere office who decided to put together an event along the lines of the Windermere Cup in Seattle, one of the largest rowing competitions in the Pacific Northwest.
“In Missoula, we were thinking, 'What could we do to take advantage of our rivers and stay with that same theme?' ” said John Brauer, managing broker for Windermere in Missoula.
This year’s SUP Cup, now in its third year, attracted 86 riders, 18 more than the previous year, Brauer said. Racers were split into elite and recreational divisions, with a total of $5,000 in prize money for the top men's and women's finishers in the elite race.
Three wheelchair users also entered the race using custom-made adaptive boards that clamped their chairs into position, with outrigger pontoons to help with balance.
Instead of the hard plastic of some of the other paddleboards, Greg Peters of Missoula used one that was inflatable. It was made of a similar type of rubber as a raft.
“They bounce right off the rocks, and you can’t put a hole in them,” said Peters, who competed in the recreational class.
He said the inflatable style is great for riding rivers and is easier to store. He can fit his board into a small trailer attached to his bike, ride down to the river, inflate it and get on the water.
“This is the first time I’ve ever done a race as an adult. In anything,” Peters said.
Once the riders had checked in, they boarded buses to the starting line at the Sha-Ron fishing access in East Missoula and began riding the 4.2-mile course toward downtown. Competitors wore ankle bracelets to track their time, so when they reached the end of the race on the water, they abandoned their boards, grabbed their paddles and ran up the bank and across the finish line in Bess Reed Park.
The Clark Fork was running a little low this year, and several riders crossing the finish line said they had caught their fins on the bottom of their boards on rocks along the course.
Libby Fredericksen, who came to the race from her home in Emigrant, said she has competed in other paddleboard races in Utah and Michigan in the past. While she didn’t have any particular problems with the water level, Fredericksen's time this year was slower than at last year’s SUP Cup.
“I was 3 minutes behind my other time and I’m in better shape this year,” she said. “I’ll definitely be back next year.”
Proceeds from this year’s SUP Cup will go to the Watershed Education Network and the Child Development Center.