Ken Hoeve took fourth last year at the Payette River Games. He'll be announcing and competing this year as well.

Ken Hoeve took fourth last year at the Payette River Games. He’ll be announcing and competing this year as well.

Hoeve On the Payette River Games

Ken Hoeve has been at the forefront of the whitewater SUP movement since its early days. After 20 or so years chasing whitewater around the West, competing in kayaking competitions and being an MC at those events as well, the Colorado resident found standup paddling. Since then he’s pioneered first descents around his home state, been on podiums at many a river festival and become a voice and figurehead for the whitewater SUP community. Here he gives us the lowdown on on this summer’s Payette River Games, the Idaho event boasting the largest prize purse ($50,000) in standup’s history.

How/why did you start going to the Payette River Games?
I first went to Kelly’s Whitewater Park three years ago to announce freestyle kayaking competitions. I’d been to Idaho on kayak trips for years but never to Cascade. I couldn’t believe how perfect the whitewater park was. It has consistent river flows, clear water, beautiful scenery and world-class features. From the moment I saw it and met Mark and Kristina Pickard (the couple that built it) I knew it was the perfect location for an even bigger event than just kayaking. It has all the amenities: ease of access, amphitheater seating and the water features. And it’s free. People are going to love it there.

Why do you keep going back?
The Payette has everything a river runner could ask for. Not only do you have this awesome man-made park with surf waves for all ability levels you also have class II to solid class V whitewater all within a few miles. Its a paddler’s dream. You are situated in lush valley yet surrounded by snow capped mountains. And with all the additional events at the Games like a fishing tournament, disc golf, volleyball and lumberjack there is something for everyone. You can watch a world champion kayaker on the river and then walk a few yards to see a free concert.

Look for Nikki Gregg, last year's female champion, to battle hard for the PRG crown this summer.

Look for Nikki Gregg, last year’s female champion, to battle hard for the PRG crown this summer.

All these board restrictions and rules lately, do they even matter in the river?
It does make a difference and with so much money on the line, everyone wants to be sure to show up with the right board for the job. The difference with PRG, especially the SUP cross, is that strategy will come into play. You not only have to go head-to-head but we add in some must-make buoys on eddy lines and next to a board-hungry hydraulic. You can go from first to last with one fall and you don’t advance to the next round. It even asks on the web site “You ready to rumble?” For the distance race I expect there will be a lot of 12’6″ boards. It’s a really flat, glassy deep section of river for the first 90%. So while your 20-something inch wide race board is quick, those eddy lines can grab you. Some racers should get ready to swim right before the finish line.

How different do you think the competition is going to be this year with all the professional ocean racers mixing with river paddlers?
This is going to be one of the most unique and memorable events ever. After doing the trip with SUP mag to Idaho for the Winter Issue, I have an appreciation for how game the ocean pros are. But so are the river runners and kayakers. They are fun and rowdy and can hop on a board and surprise a lot of people. Off the river will be fun to watch too. Middle of the mountains with some of the most iconic characters in both industries competing for a monstrous amount of cash.

Do you think people will be surprised with how physical the SUP Cross can get?
Maybe. It’s physical in a few ways. First is the fact you are charging as hard and fast as you can through the course, making moves in and out of the current, near rocks and through the whitewater park. Second, while there is no intentional shoving or foul play tolerated, there are tactics. Rubbing is racing. My advice is to expect to take a few licks and don’t be a whiner.

What's your goal this year? Where do you want to finish?
I have made finals in every SUP cross event I’ve ever entered, except one. Be great to continue that in Idaho. As for a goal, it’s to show people a good time and hospitality while announcing. I want visitors and fellow competitors to have an incredible experience.

If it isn't you, then who?
Rumor has that Kai Lenny is coming. He’s a legit contender. So is Slater (Trout), if he shows up. Mike T. is at the top of the list too. Gavere obviously. He’s a nasty SUP cross racer. Last year Benjamin Sarrazin won it all. He will be back and he is not only fast, but knows rivers well. It’s difficult to predict outcomes with all the variables of river racing. For the women, I know Nikki Gregg wants to retain the title but there is going to be a way deeper field coming this year. Annabel (Anderson) is so fast and has amazing balance. Candice (Appleby) as well. But I have to put my paddling partner Brittany Parker up there. She has been training head-to-head with me and will hurt some feelings out there.

We're hearing rumors of a party at the local saloon? Truth?
I’m calling it a Us and Them gathering at a bar called the Valley Club. Don’t try to look it up, there’s no web site. It’s a true local Idaho bar where camouflage and rubber fish boots are proper attire. Just about anything goes. There have been a few notorious late nights in there with some well-known SUP types. So one night you choose your attire and we go. Bring your fish boots or your pink shorts and zinc oxide. You decide: beach boy or SUP Dynasty?