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Look! On the Golf Course. It's a Surfboard? It's a Golf Cart? 

Local entrepreneur is helping make golfing cool

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It sounds like a riddle perhaps overheard at the X-Games: What does international surf star Laird Hamilton have in common with golf? At first consideration, these two sports seem as far apart as Waikiki and Whispering Pines; one celebrating the endless summer of youth and a certain awe for the thundering wildness, while the other is country club manicured and decidedly appealing to a demographic that is heading off to pasture.

But, with a new invention, the GolfBoard, destined to take over golf courses from sea to shining sea, and already available at Tetherow, the sports of surfing and golfing may find a fun and challenging commonality. More a surfboard—and decidedly less dorky—than Segway, the GolfBoard is essentially an all-terrain vehicle designed for carrying golf clubs and a single rider over rolling golf courses (riders can either balance their clubs on the front of the machine; "classic carry," with clubs slung over a shoulder; or "free ride," like rolling through a grassy skateboard park). Intended as a replacement for the golf cart, it is meant to provide an additional twist and demand to the otherwise leisurely "sport" of golfing. And, although officially debuting this spring and summer, the GolfBoard already has received accolades and a warming reception from the golf establishment, winning Best New Product award from the PGA and several hundred contracts from golf courses in North America.

The link (no pun intend) to Central Oregon is more than just its availability at local golf courses, but is an entrepreneur, Paul Hodge, who has served as the hub for the dream team behind the product's invention and rollout­—a team including world-class surfer Hamilton; Star Faraon, an electric vehicle engineer; and Don Wildman, the founder of Bally Total Fitness. Wildman will take over as the company's CEO after Hodge steps down after the initial startup phase (his specialty). Perhaps only lacking from the team is Phil Jackson.

Hodge grew up in Seattle, but spent a stint in New York City before returning to the west coast as the founder and chairman for Solar Nation, a leading solar energy company. When he "retired" three years ago, Hodge moved with his family to the small cowboy/resort town of Sisters, ("the perfect place to raise a family," he says), but spends the bulk of winter in Hawaii.

In a phone interview, Hodge admits that golf is not his primary sport.

"There's no way I'd golf if I had to golf in the golf cart," explains Hodge. Yet he goes on to wax slightly poetic about the landscape offered by a golf course. "It is the perfect green canvas," he says, referring to the rolling hills at a golf course, and then explains that connection to skateboarding and surfing, "Basically," he says, "it is a terrain park but with a purpose of chasing down a ball."

He adds, "It is the perfect marriage of surfing, snow boarding and golf all together."

While the GolfBoard won't be riding any half-pipes, and golf courses provide more a green circle than black diamond ride, by injecting just a bit of X-Games to golfing, the hope and expectation is to draw more young people to the sport. Currently, less than 20 percent of the total golf population is less than the age of 40, and less than 5 percent under 30.

"The golf industry has been flat line for the past few years," says Hodge. "They are looking for ways to attract new ways to attract young to the sport."

The product is built 100 percent in America (New Jersey) assures Hodge, and evolves from the first generation of similar products. Previous prototypes were single-wheel drive, and did not have the capacity to climb larger inclines. The design teams at GolfBoard added better battery capacity and better traction tires for a more reliable and daring ride, with some boards even topping 50 mph. In April, the company will up current production to 1,000 boards a month.

Go here: Riverhouse Rendezvous Slalom Kayak Race, 10 am, Sunday, March 30.

As the high Cascade snow melts off the mountains and gushes down the hill to fill the Deschutes River, boaters jump back in the river, testing their skills and endurance on a quarter-mile whitewater course, paddling through gates, around rocks and other river features. The Riverhouse Convention Center, 2850 NW Rippling River Ct. tumalocreek.com

Or here: High Desert Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Open House, 11 am, Saturday, March 29.

Celebrate the one-year anniversary of Central Oregon's adorable animal rehabilitation center, providing care to injured wildlife. Get involved, or just oo and aw at the cuteness. Free High Desert Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation 62410 Erickson Rd.

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