Taci Davis threw a tennis ball into a calm swimming hole in Cascade with a crowd of 70 people behind her. It cleared the bright red buoys and the referee started a stopwatch. Josie, her 30-pound gray-speckled border collie, splashed through the water and brought the ball back in 17.12 seconds. Competing against 26 other dogs for this event in the inaugural Payette River Games on June 22, Josie won her owner the $100 grand prize.
Josie probably would have enjoyed the moment as the proudest of her life if she had any idea what was going on. When asked how she got into the sport of river fetching, her owner translated for us.
"I started when I was 6 weeks old," Josie said. "Now I'm 6 years old."
Josie had the home advantage, since she lives right across the river. She enjoys chasing more than just tennis balls.
"I chase pebbles, twigs, butterflies, grass, lights... moving or stationary," Josie said.
"Josie, say your prayers," Davis said. On cue, Josie pulled her front paws to her face and balanced on her haunches. She put her head down in reverence.
The River Dog competition fit well within the Payette River Games, a mildly gimmicky, but popular event at Kelly's Whitewater Park in Cascade June 21-23. Kayak races, volleyball tournaments, golf games and more drew 14,000 spectators from all over the United States.
Stand-up paddle boarders attempted to ford rapids and circle around massive inflated beach balls in the SUP-cross event. Most fell helplessly off their boards and scrambled to stay upstream.
The junior kayak event brought kids 12 and younger to play on the same waves as kayakers three times their size. But these little bad-asses strutted around with miniature kayaks and skills comparable to their full-sized boating heroes. The homunculi even nailed the paddler style with flat-bill caps flipped backward, junior-sized tank tops and all the swagger of their big brothers.
But the freak flags really flew at the last event Saturday night, during the Kelly's Expression Session. Any vessel could take these shameless floaters down the waves. One man awaited his turn wearing an Easy Rider motorcycle helmet and an Oxford button-down with a high-society bow tie, toting around a wheel barrow. Before the event began, a stray blue 55-gallon drum escaped the launch point and bobbed into the sunset.