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Paddleboarders race to raise money for kids' meals, watershed

Paddleboarders race to raise money for kids' meals, watershed

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EAST MISSOULA — Peanut butter and bananas typically pair well together, but they were tastefully challenging each other at the start of Sunday’s SUP Cup on the Clark Fork River.

“It’s a friendly competition, but if the peanut butter wins, the peanut butter wins,” Rebecca Paquette boldly declared, pulling her peanut butter costume over her life jacket. “Friday was the first day on the boards for a lot of us, and we are surprisingly phenomenal. We are naturals. Look out, banana.”

“We are sworn enemies,” responded Aaron Brock, wearing the banana costume. "You just wait."

Paquette and Brock both work at the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center. The two were some of the 60-plus competitors in the Windermere Real Estate stand up paddleboard race to benefit the Food Bank’s EmPower Pack children’s program and the Watershed Education Network. The peanut butter and banana were joined by a couple of pickles and a bottle of ketchup.

“This is the food bank’s first year of having a team,” Paquette said. “We thought it was appropriate to wear food costumes to raise awareness.”

The EmPower Pack Program provides food for children to eat during the weekends when they’re not able to access meals at school. The Watershed Education Network fosters knowledge, appreciation and awareness of watershed health.

Shortly before the race, Julie Tickle was assembling three stand up paddleboards with outriggers that were used by handicapped racers. Tickle, the interim executive director of Dream Adaptive Recreation in Whitefish, said the outriggers are like training wheels for the athletes, and she was riding on the back of one SUP.

“We get them started with the outriggers, then get them balancing and paddling,” Tickle said. “This is a great event with a good picnic at the end of it and it’s for a good cause.”

Erik Ogren agrees. He works at Windermere, and deployed a raft on the Clark Fork to pick up stragglers or anyone who might need help.

“It’s impressive to watch the disabled folks. They’re really the stars here,” Ogren said, waiting at the Sha-Ron launch site for the race to begin.

The boat launch was fairly quiet until about 10:15 a.m., when the first load of SUP’ers were dropped off at the put in. They hastily attached rudders to the base of their boards, then one by one ran past the timing station carrying them. In a mix of styles, they tossed the boards in the water, with some jumping directly onto them in a standing position while others precariously perched on their knees.

“It’s not easy,” said Elizabeth Halverson, who also works for Windermere. “I spent three hours on a board on Friday, and it isn’t happening for me. Then my sister tried it, and was up in 10 minutes. But it’s fun watching.”

This is the sixth annual SUP race, which ended with a picnic at the Bess Reed Park behind the Holiday Inn Parkside. Brint Wahlberg has participated in five of the races.

“I work for Windermere, but in addition this is such a fun event and you get a lot of community members out here on a beautiful morning,” Wahlberg said. “I do it for fun, but it’s also fun to watch the competitive people and the adaptive boards. This year, it seems like the water height is the best condition since I’ve done one, so it’s going to be a great day.”

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