In less than three weeks, sleepy little Hood River, Oregon will be taken over by dozens of the world’s best paddlers. The 2015 Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge is set for August 22nd and 23rd, and it’s shaping up to be one of the best races of the year.
Hood River is a special place. This long-time paddling mecca is home to the unique Columbia River Gorge, aka the world’s largest wind tunnel, which produces one of the best downwind runs on the planet despite being 150 miles inland. There’s a huge local paddling crew, including some of the best juniors in the world via the Big Winds JET program (“Junior Elite Team”). To top off the great conditions on the water, the town of Hood River itself is an awesome little spot to hang.
The Gorge has one of the most unique formats in the sport, with the highlight being the “Double Downwinder” that takes advantage of the Gorge’s main drawcard. Unlike most downwind runs that are in the ocean, the Gorge is a river. Not only that, but paddlers actually race upstream against the current. This combination of wind tunnel-style gusts and reverse current make for endless little steep, sharp bumps that make downwinding in this part of the world so much fun.
Each year the locals are joined by several of the world’s best: In 2014 the Gorge was one of the highest ranked elite races of the year, and 2015 could go even higher.
Last year’s race saw Connor Baxter dominate, with the superstar claiming both legs of the Double Downwinder (as well as the traditional “Course Race” to make a clean sweep of the event). Others to impress included DD runner-up Georges Cronsteadt, Travis Grant (2nd in the Course, 3rd in the Downwinder), Jake Jensen, Danny Ching, Bruno Tauhiro, Kody Kerbox, and Frenchie Arthur Daniel. On the women’s, Annabel Anderson was just as dominant, taking out the Course Race ahead of Lina Augaitis and Candice Appleby, before saluting twice in the dw’er over the likes of Angie Jackson and local star Fiona Wylde.
The Gorge Paddle Challenge has built itself up over the years from a regional community race to one of the highlights of the international SUP racing season. It’s almost like the West Coast equivalent of the Carolina Cup.
As a refresher: Earlier in the season I labeled the five “most significant” races in the worlds as the Majors, in a similar vein to what we see in professional tennis and golf. Originally I chose: Carolina, Payette, Molokai, the Gorge and the Battle of the Paddle. The BOP disappeared shortly afterwards, however the new Pacific Paddle Games looks like it’ll be an automatic (and very worthy) replacement, so the list now stands thus:
Carolina Cup (Travis Grant, Annabel Anderson)
Payette River Games (Mo Freitas, Rebecca Giddens)
Molokai 2 Oahu (Travis Grant, Sonni Honscheid)
Gorge Paddle Challenge
Pacific Paddle Games
Who will triumph at The Gorge? Whoever it is, you’ll be the first to know thanks to our Gorge Paddle Challenge Live Blog. We’ll have play-by-play of the racing all weekend, including some insights, interviews and plenty of photo & video from behind the scenes.
The countdown is well and truly on to what should be a great weekend of paddling. Let’s go chase some bumps…