Kuttawa Cannonball Run Makes a Splash

The poker run raised nearly $100,000 for charity

By Gregg Mansfield
Photos courtesy Pete Boden

Running a successful poker can be a challenge but the reward for Jeff Hoefling each year is seeing the money help charities in the community.

Over the past couple of years, money raised from the Kuttawa Cannonball Run staged by the Midwest Powerboat Association has gone to sending underprivileged youths to camp and buying sonar for a local search and rescue team.

The early June event on Barkley and Kentucky Lake raised nearly $100,000 for area charities, the biggest haul since the poker run started six years ago. Hoefling, who organizes the poker run with Stephen Miles and Terry Martin, donated a motorcycle that kickstarted the charity auction.

“The first couple of years, they were kind of like, ‘It’s just a bunch of go-fast boats,’” Hoefling said. “They welcome us throughout the year now. If you’re wearing a Cannonball Run T-shirt down there, you’re a local celebrity because of what the event has brought.”

With about 120 boats running in the poker run this year, the Kuttawa Cannonball Run has grown into one of the largest performance-boat gatherings in the country. Hoefling said poker runners came from 26 states to participate in the run, which takes place the first weekend after Memorial Day. The 2023 Kuttawa Cannonball Run dates are June 2-3.

Organizers offered two poker runs, a 20-mile run on Friday and the main 64-mile run on Saturday.
The Kuttawa Cannonball Run staged by the Midwest Powerboat Association had 120 boats for the poker run.

The event offers a 20-mile Friday run on Barkley Lake, while the Saturday run covers 124 miles that goes from Barkley Lake to Kentucky Lake, spanning two states.

“We’re trying to make this event where we want everybody to be able to participate and that’s why we have two runs,” Hoefling said.

Recognizing that some poker runners may not want to do the full run, participants had to pick up poker chips at three of the five marinas to participate in the card draw.

“We don’t single anybody out because there’s a lot of people that can’t make it to the lunch stop or they might have had friends come in town and weren’t able to get to all the stuff,” he said. “We want to make sure that everyone’s able to participate, so we don’t ever cut anybody off.”

Kuttawa Harbor Marina in Kentucky has served as the host of the Cannonball Run for the past six years. The area has lots of restaurants and a few bars to accommodate the crowds that come into town for the event.

For the longer run, the poker runners made the 64-mph trek to Breakers Marina in Tennessee for lunch. This year organizers provided a catered lunch to get boaters back on the water faster.

Saturday night’s charity auction featured the motorcycle donated by Hoefling and Stephen Miles Design painted a shuffleboard along with donations from the poker run community. Benefactors include the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office, Boys and Girls Club and Lyon County Search and Rescue.

The boats rafted up at Kuttawa Harbor Marina in Kentucky.

“We let people know they can donate to the auction throughout the year, and we start collecting the items,” he said.

The event has donated nearly $150,000 to charity the past two years, a far cry from early events that lost money.

“Around year four or five we kind of hit a base point and climbed out of the hole,” Hoefling said. “It’s kind of snowballed and it’s holding its own now, which is really, really nice.” 

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