MISSOULA — Land-based racing wasn't the only type of racing in Missoula that got shelved in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual Windermere SUP Cup stand up paddleboard competition on the Clark Fork River came back from its year-long hiatus, with a solid turnout of competitors and locals taking in the races Sunday at the finish line at Bess Reed Park in downtown Missoula.

The race covers just over four miles of the river, starting in East Missoula and ending at Bess Reed Park with a short jog, or sprint for some racers, to the finish line.

Temperatures stayed relatively cool throughout the morning and early afternoon, and the vibe and excitement was a welcome site for event organizers.

"I feel like the energy was a lot higher this year because we didn't get to have our event last year," event organizer Andie Zielinski said. " ... I do feel like our energy this year is way more intense. We are excited to be here. ... It's been so much fun, the energy is contagious. ... Our community is ready to be together again and you can definitely tell."

Despite the canceled 2020 edition, organizers still found ways to support the nonprofits —  the Missoula Food Bank's EmPower Pack Program and Watershed Education Network — with a paddleboard raffle.

While temps remained in the high 70s to low 80s with some wind keeping the air cool, there was some concern about the air quality due to fires burning across Montana and the Pacific Northwest. 

Zielinski was honest about the situation.

"We were a little worried about it," she said. "But in true Missoulian style, we just figured, 'At your own choosing if you choose to be out,' because I know people are dying to get out and be among the community right now, whether there is smoke or not. So we kinda left it up to the participants and what they chose to do. ... It is kind of a bummer because you wonder if we would have gotten more participants if it wasn't as smokey but I think we are making the best of it."

Just over 60 racers competed Sunday, six in the Elite Division and 57 in the Recreational.

New faces dotted the top spots in the Elite, with 69-year-old Travis Prewitt out of Liberty Lake, Washington, taking the top overall finish and top mark among the male Elites in a hair over 34 minutes and 12 seconds. Jonni Pekus, 39 and racing out of Whitefish, took second and the top mark among the Elite women in 34 minutes and 28 seconds.

The rest of the Elite field finished with Arnold Lucero (St. Ignatius) in third in 35:03.13, Laura Chase (Missoula) in 44:49.24, Tricia Lyons (Philipsburg) in 44:54.66 and Becky Crawford (Missoula) in 48:28.16.

In the Recreational Division, Patrick Hoesing, 59 out of Omaha, Nebraska, took first in 35:29.86 and Linda McCoy, 54 and racing out of Austin, Texas, snagged the top women's spot and was fourth among the division in 38:15.97. The top of five of the Recreational was Mitchell Schafhauser (Bozeman) took second in 35:34.45, Michael Lessard (Missoula) 37:39.42 took third and Dawn Lev (Whitefish) finished fifth in 38:38.32.

Cyril Burguiere, the top Elite finisher in 2019 and winner of six of the last seven races excluding Sunday's, did not compete.

Lance Hartzler covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter at @lance_hartz or shoot him an email at Lance.Hartzler@406mtsports.com.

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