August 22-23, 2015, Hood River, OR – It was an exciting weekend for the sport of stand up paddleboard racing at the fifth annual Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge in Hood River, Oregon. The event this year drew around 340 skilled competitors, including 60 kids and one of the best elite class showings ever.
Perhaps the biggest, most important event on the US west coast, the highly anticipated Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge took place at Hood River’s Waterfront Park on the Columbia River Gorge. The competition was comprised of a course race, distance downwind race, and a team relay race.
Strong winds made for great training conditions for the few days leading up to the event, allowing paddlers to enjoy some great long distance down winders along the Gorge River. Tragically, Floridian SUP competitor Andres Damian Pompo was separated from his board while on a downwind training run on Friday and disappeared. His board was found, but there was no sign of Andres. Search & rescue efforts immediately went underway, with planes and boats heavily searching the waters, but to no avail. Leading to the first day of competition with mixed emotions, the event organizers decided to go through with the schedule of the race as planned. Everyones thoughts and prayers go out to Andres friends and family.
On Saturday, the first day of competition, the wind completely died. Though not ideal for the downwinder, the flat conditions were perfect for the course racing discipline. The combination of no wind and the burning forest fires in the surrounding mountains filled the Gorge sky with a pretty thick layer of smoke—making for less than ideal conditions for competitors. With the heavy weight of the air and no breeze to keep it cool, competitors found the race more difficult than anticipated. Naish team rider, Manca Notar, had to pull out after the second lap of the female elite race due to problems breathing. In the men’s elite race, Kai Lenny worked his way up to second place behind Danny Ching until getting hung up at the very last buoy. With a pile up of top riders at the turn, it became a six-man sprint to the finish line. In the end it was Danny Ching pulling off a convincing win, followed by Travis Grant, Titouan Puyo, Connor Baxter, Georges Cronsteadt, and Kai Lenny.
Despite the challenging weather, the course racing was certainly an awesome event, and a favorite among spectators. The course took the racers right into the bay to execute a series of tight, challenging buoy turns only a few feet from the cheering crowd, who were totally engaged all the way till the nail biting finish.
Sunday’s long distance race is an eight mile stretch from Viento State Park to Hood River known for strong winds from the west, which oppose the current running from the east. This creates large river swells, sometimes well overhead. Unfortunately the conditions were not what had been expected. According to Naish team rider, Chuck Patterson, it was a “…windless, hot, glassy, up river current hellish grind where it was all about finding the least amount of current and grinding to the finish.” Although really stoked with their equipment for the race and feeling strong leading up to the event, the riders of team Naish did not have a great race. Sometimes it’s good to get beat so that you can come out swinging even harder next time!! In the end it was Kelly Margets who pulled through with a surprising victory, beating out Travis Grant, Titouan Puyo, Beau O’Brian, and Connor Baxter to round out the top five. All in all it was a fantastic event, with most contestants promising to attend next year, hopeful for better conditions.
Congratulations to all the paddlers who participated, making this one of the strongest competitions of any event this year. Thank you to the 248 paddlers and community members who came together on Sunday making a standing circle on the water to show support for the search for Andres Pombo, the missing paddler who was still missing since Friday. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Andres Pombo as the search continues.
*Update – August 27, 2015*
Congratulations to Annie Reickert for placing 2nd in the Girls Course Race Groms (12th overall on Saturday) and also for taking 2nd in the Girls Downwind Grom (7th overall on Sunday) at her first Gorge competition!
Said a spokesperson for Pacific Boardsports/Naish North America, “We were so excited to have Annie here from Maui to partake in the 5th annual Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. We could not be more proud of her as she represents both Naish and the future of the sport while exhibiting great dedication, respectfulness and talent!”
Congrats again Annie – job well done!
#NaishOne #NaishRacing #NaishGorgePaddleChallenge #StandUpPaddling #NaishSUP #NaishStandUpPaddling #HoodRiver #TheGorge
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