Among the dozens of spectators gathered along Upper River Road Saturday, Central Point couple Diane and David Blaska had insight into the strength, agility and effort needed to overcome some of Southern Oregon's largest rapids.
"These guys are pure athletes," David Blaska said as a man fought rapids down a section of Ti'lomikh Falls with a six-foot drop, adding that they're "pure muscle from head to toe."
The annual King of the Rogue whitewater event near Ti'lomikh Falls in Gold Hill was a rare event for the Blaskas to observe their grandson Kory Kellum's favorite pastime in person, giving them the opportunity to watch Kellum and about 15 other individuals navigate three Class IV rapids. Usually they only hear about Kellum's daredevil adventures in remote locations after he's completed them, they said. He'll contact them only after he's kayaked steep falls and Class IV and V rapids, but never before.
"He didn't want his Nana worrying about him," David Blaska said.
The Blaskas said Kellum had spent much of Friday evening practicing on the rapids, going through the course which includes Class IV chutes on Mugger's Alley, Powerhouse and Grandma's runs approximately eight times. It was only once he'd finished practicing that they learned the South Medford High School and Oregon State University engineering grad student was visiting from Corvallis.
"Then he got very hungry so he called his Nana," David Blaska said, laughing. "Typical grandkid!"
As Dustin Knapp paddled his kayak through a gate upstream after bearing right in the course's second of three runs, announcer Ron Garfas-Knowles reminded the crowd that navigating rapids at 1,800 cubic feet per second takes talent.
"These guys are making it look easy," Garfas-Knowles said, encouraging the crowd to cheer Knapp.
Some in the crowd hoped to witness the first stand-up paddler to navigate all three runs in the competition's four-year history for a $1,000 prize. Garfas-Knowles said he witnessed one stand-up paddler navigate the first two runs cleanly, but could not see from the other side of the river whether he completed the third run.
Drew and Barbara Snyder of Los Angeles attended the event on a whim, visiting a son who lives in Gold Hill after driving to Eugene last weekend for the U.S. Olympic trials.
They said whitewater areas such as the one near Ti'lomikh Falls don't exist in Southern California.
"It's a beautiful river," Barbara Snyder said. "This is a really perfect, fun way to spend the afternoon."
Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.