RECAP BY CONNOR:
The 2014 Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge was an epic event. It was an action-packed two day weekend with three races.
Day one started with the flat water technical course race. It was about 5 miles – 5 lap course with a lot of buoy turns. All the men competitors were on 14 foot race boards. I had my Starboard 14′ Allstar.
The women went first and after they finished their race all the men lined up. There were about 50 Men Elite paddlers so the start line was packed. And – stacked with the best talent – Danny Ching, Travis Grant, Kai Lenny, Jake Jensen, Georges Cronsteadt, Kody Kerbox, Slater Trout, Chase Kosterlitz – just to name a few.
I was rail to rail with everyone around me, so when the horn blew and I went to take my first stroke I hit the board and went right over the handle bars. By the time I got up I was in about 25th place. I took a deep breath and said the race isn’t over until it’s over and started passing a few people.
When I got to the first buoy I was in about 18th place. Then the drafting line started and I hopped on the side of everyone and used the side wake to catch back up to the front. By the next buoy I was in about 10th and at that turn I passed a few more people.
And the next stretch was longer, so I was able to hop into fifth behind Danny, Jake, Travis and Kai. We all turned a few buoys and I started to notice Kai slowing down so I got on his side and passed him.
And now I was in fourth with 4 more laps to go. I stayed in that spot for a bit and then for the second to last lap I took the lead and led that lap. When we started the last lap the pace picked up behind me – so I did as well to stay in front.
Coming into the fourth to last buoy the pace picked up even more and I made sure to turn that buoy first. Lucky I did – because Georges tried to get the inside and took Danny out – which let Kody and Travis go around. All I heard was a splash and yelling and I took off and tried to hold the guys off until the finish.
I turned left, then right, then made my last left turn into the beach and knew I had it. I sprinted one last time and ran up in first with my board. I was super stoked to have won after that horrible start.
I got some great food and got a lot of sleep for the next days “double downwinder”. When I woke up the river was dead calm and super glassy. So for the two downwinders it wasn’t looking good. I went to the event site and after the meeting – there was still no wind.
As we drove up to the start, it got windier and windier. So as long as there were bumps – I was happy. The girls left 30 minutes before us and then we lined up and again we were super close to each other. So when the horn blew I was up and out. It went from flat to small bumps to bigger bumps and by the time we were halfway to the first buoy the bumps were fun. So Danny, Travis and I were up in front and having fun surfing the bumps.
We all stayed like this until the the next buoy. The wind died – so I knew I needed to get ahead and hold the OC1 paddlers off (Danny, Travis, Georges). Luckily there were some sloshy bumps which I love. So I just kept a steady pace and held the guys off and got to run up the beach with my board in first place.
After that finish, I knew I had another downwinder – so I got some UB Super in me, stretched out and got up to the start line. We had about 30 minutes until the next start. And we all lined up quickly because the wind was lightening up. This time I had a great start and took the lead pretty quickly from Jake. The bumps were there but you had to work hard. So I put my head down and found the rhythm and didn’t look back. I just did the same thing I did last time and held them off again. I ran up with my board for a clean sweep.
I want to thank my sponsors for all their support – Starboard, Dakine, Maui Jim Sunglasses, Rainbow Sandals, Futures Fins, UB Super, Virus Sportswear, Trident Sports, GoPro, OnIt Pro, Waterman’s Sunscreen, Garmin, Igloo Coolers, Hammer Nutrition, iDcard, Sunrite Maui, and Hi-Tech Sports.
Also a big Mahalo to all the event organizers – Steve Gates, the excellent commentating by Al Paterson – and all the great volunteers. Fantastic Event!! A definite must for next year!!!
Photos: Andrew Welker Photography:
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