It’s day three of recovery from my Downwind SUP Camp and racing in the Gorge Paddle Challenge last week.
Races are physically draining but can be emotionally draining as well. The anticipation and nerves build all week and reach a climax just before the start horn goes off. A few minutes into the race and all of the anxiety is gone. During a race it’s simply focused thoughts, burning lungs and full power.
Competition is intense and I find there is a bit of an emotional and physical let down when it’s all over. Everything seems a little dull coming off the endorphin high of a race weekend. We can’t redline at all times. The competitive fire burns bright but quickly the excitement ends and we’re back to our normal lives. Anyway, I’m definitely coming down off of the high of last weekend’s racing. The bottom is near and soon anticipation and energy will start to build for the next one!
Saturday’s course race featured hot and flat conditions with one of the most competitive fields of the year. I don’t know the exact temperature, but when I got back to my car just after racing the thermometer read 106 degrees. It was a hot one. I had a difficult start but managed to make my way back to the front of the pack to finish in 11th place. I rested well that night as Sunday would be a true test of endurance with 16 miles of paddling in the the double downwind race.
Mother Nature was looking out for the race organizers as Saturday had ideal conditions for course racing and Sunday provided strong wind for the double downwinder. Downwind paddling is why athletes come to the Gorge from around the world and compete in the Gorge Paddle Challenge. If you have never experienced downwind paddling, and even if you have, the Columbia River Gorge is a paddler’s paradise. Not only for it’s world class downwind paddling conditions, but the flat water paddling and scenic beauty of the area is amazing.
Each downwind race was approximately 8 miles of surfing bumps up-current on the mighty Columbia. Over the years I’ve learned that downwind paddling is more of an art than a science. There are hundreds of tiny calculations you must make while paddling downwind. When to paddle, how to paddle, when to surf, when to go right, left or straight. Split second decisions, combined with athleticism and skill, all contribute to create a fast downwind paddler.
After two downwind runs I finished 24th overall. Normally I would not be very happy with a 24th place finish. However, considering the deep field of Tahitian, Aussie and Hawaiian downwind experts, I was quite content. By no means does this mean I am complacent.
The beauty of downwind paddling is that there is a huge learning curve and room for me to make drastic improvements. After 7 years of full-on SUP racing, it’s hard to get motivated to drastically improve my flat water paddling these days.
However, the intricacies of learning to maximize each glide for faster downwind times has given me a fresh kick in the butt to work on something new. I look forward to getting many more runs in while here in Hood River for three more weeks.
My downwind SUP campers had a great time completing their first world class downwinders with the week capped off racing in the downwinder on Sunday. The first day of our camp featured great wind so we took advantage with two runs. I love sharing the stoke of paddling with paddlers of all abilities. There is no better feeling than seeing someone take off on their first wave, complete their first downwinder or even simply stand up for the first time.
Day two and three of the camp had less wind but we were still able to have plenty of fun as you can see from the video at the top. Watch to see amazing downwinders, paddling across state lines for tacos and how to do the SUP hip thrust dance. I’ll be hosting more SUP camps in the future in San Diego and Hood River so be sure to stay tuned to chasekosterlitz.com/sup-camps for news. Now it’s off to do some hiking until the wind fills in this weekend!