2016 Gorge Downwind Champs

2016 Gorge Downwind Champs

2016 Gorge Downwind Champs, a fundraiser for Rivers for Change.

The Columbia River Gorge. Event sponsor Epic Kayaks rep Kenny Howell said it best: “It’s like God’s gift.” I agreed best: “Exactly.”

The Columbia River drains more than a quarter million square miles of earth. It’s the third largest river in the United States. It flows a length of more than 1200 miles, and touches ground in seven states and a Canadian province. The river entertains enthusiasts from every inch of the globe.

Admittedly, none of that was the first on our minds for why we were going to converge upon Hood River for the second annual 2016 Gorge Downwind Championships. On our mind was the clockwork wind for which Hood River is known. When we did all show up, it was obvious who was in charge. Scads of surf skis filled the lawn at the Hood River Marina park from Monday, July 19 throughout the week. The athletes arriving were people who were doing amazing things like Maggie Hogan heading next to the 31st olympiad in Rio de Janeiro this summer to compete for the US in sprint kayak, or Jimmy Austin representing massive status in outrigger canoe, or others getting off the plane from South Africa and Australia to compete here in Oregon. Dawid Mocke himself. And more. Epic stuff!

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The relatively few stand up paddlers arrived as well, from all over the place. Race day, when the wind said “please hold”, the discrepancy in speed between the surf skis and outrigger paddlers, and the standup paddleboarders- and one prone paddler- became very clear. Staggered starts didn’t reduce the feeling of being overtaken as I powered along, paddling upriver and striving for a glide on my 14’ SIC Bullet. I was one of a total of 30 SUP finishers including both the short and long course, the latter of which was about 14 miles from Home Valley, Washington back to Hood River, Oregon. I am not complaining. There was wind for the first third of the race, and there was wind all week, but you need to know the sinking feeling of the wind dying on you when you are pumped up and racing, and you have been trained to expect unfailing wind in The Gorge.

A big thanks to Carter Johnson for his commitment to bringing prize money to the people. Though the field for SUP was minimally stacked this year, in time, smart paddlers will get “wind” of it and will show up. With close to $40,000 of prize money and swag divided amongst the winners, why would you miss it? More, we had a week of shuttles driven by the world’s coolest raft guides. This isn’t hyperbolic social media status update drivel in my assigning the superlative. I have known hundreds of raft guides and have been one myself. Paul, Alex, and Shayla, of Wild and Scenic River Tours, took the cake in terms of service and personality. They untangled the knots that angsty paddlers tied in their downwind anticipation, and they made sure that the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of boat and board bounty was kept safe throughout the week. I was so lucky to hang evenings with them for the daily download from their gritty, wild perspectives.

Unplugged from much of the real world during this dream week, I found myself having little more to do than to compare the downwind jewel of the Columbia River Gorge to Maui’s Maliko run that I touched on for a couple of weeks in May. With accessibility via a freeway on both sides of the expansive river, by my own car and boards, with equally warm environs and water, and plenty of aloha, I am so down with the Oregon I’ve seen. Not comparing, though, as it is the thief of joy according to Teddy Roosevelt and the Hood River resident sporting a sign in their front yard reminding us of this. Everyone in Oregon has been so hospitable that I find myself in a slightly apologetic mindset for bringing a California license plate into the state. As an absolute non-native of California, I have now been there long enough to have learned to apologize for it. Sadly.
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Approximately eight mile Viento runs, from the Baker Bus shuttles back to the race site, were immediate and easy. They were repeated many times throughout the week: Pick blackberries while you wait for your friends to secure their water bladders around their chests and go pee. A quick jaunt down a trail through the berries and a thin slice of cover from Alder trees and poison oak, to the beach where the wind throws your board back at you, and then you stick it and Go. I’m floored. Stoked.

The Gorge Downwind Champs is a fundraiser for Rivers for Change, whose mission is simple: We connect people to rivers. This year’s sell out event raised $6000 to develop programming for source to sea education. Thank you, Gorge Champs!

Race results here.

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Women’s SUP winners 1st, 2nd, 3rd: Hannah Hill, Alyson Fromm, Teresa Rogerson.

Men’s SUP 1st, 2nd, 3rd: Jarkko Simonen, Jan Boersma, Eric Starnes.

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2016 OluKai Ho’Olaule’a and Paddle Imua Downwind Races

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There is a saying on Maui, “Maui no ka oi”, which translates to “Maui is the best”. Others say that Maui is the heart chakra island in the chain of the Hawaiian Islands, with Kauai being the crown chakra, and the Big Island and its volcano being the orgasmic first chakra. Whatever, that’s kind of cool, but in ancient cultures, Maui was the ancient powerhouse superman known throughout Polynesia to have tricked his brothers into creating the Hawaiian Islands, by catching their fish hook on the ocean floor and then telling them to paddle as hard as they could. Whatever the story, a legendary island.

After kooking myself out on a 14 mile downwind run from Davenport to Santa Cruz the weekend prior to flying to Maui, I resolved to make it up in the warm water, and let it sink into my bones by relaxing on my feet, and just pretending that I was interviewing for a job or driving extremely fast, or something less nerve-racking than calming down and going with the flow.

Off Hana Highway, Jen Fuller and I turn right to descend down into Maliko Gulch, in our rental sedan with soft racks I brought along, straps twisted yet still buzzing from the wind, and a car top tempting to warp from our two SIC Bullet v.2s rented from Second Wind in Kahului. It’s beautiful down there, and in prior years on the island, I have zoomed by that turnoff so many times, when downwind racing was still unknown to me, and island crossings were something that awesome women like Andrea Moller and Maria Souza do.

We are presented with plywood signs with hand-painted sentences letting us know that we are entering the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation. There is a Hawaiian (British mashup) flag atop a high pole, a state flag I still don’t quite understand the history of. It’s flagging out to indicate a nice north-easterly wind, the side shore type of wind that we need for our approximately seven mile paddle back to Kanaha Beach. As we roll down into the gulch, we go deeper into green, into tropical, with feral chickens, big  vines, evidence of a recent shower, and more hand-lettered reminders that we are on borrowed land.

When we emerge into the sun again, the first person I really notice is Dave Kalama in a blue truck, and Jeremy Riggs standing and taking the sun on his back. What a great image of celebrity crushers against a backdrop of hammock weather, in reality and not on screen. I am just stoked, for the small enough community of water sports people, where we cannot possibly know everyone, but where we can happen to walk by most of them- and the very best of them- throughout the course of a lifetime of just doing the sports.

I stupidly have forgotten my chin strap hat and my reef booties- I’m just kidding. I don’t wear reef booties, but I might if I were walking on reefs, which you never should do. Actually, I don the Maui Surfer Girls trucker hat that Dustin Tester had just given me upon arrival, with some pineapple she had just cut. I later regret wearing the brand new trucker hat when I sacrificed it to one of Maui’s sons, on the reef breaking at the entrance to Kanaha. Kook, redux.

I slip off my Astral Designs “Rosa” convertible flip flops (they are awesome, and one could walk on reefs with these, but you just don’t do that) and put them into my hydration backpack, and I touch into the water of Maliko Bay for my first time, for a warm up run for the OluKai race happening in three days. The warm water, yummy runs each day are useful in decimating my number of falls each time until I can just kind of do it.

OluKai race day comes, and we are all pretty excited. The weather is right for this, we have x number of knots blowing, a number that on a wind finder app would not mean the same as on the mainland. It reminds me of the difference of wave height designation in California, measuring the face of the wave, versus in Hawaii measuring the back of the wave. Windfinder says 13 knots upon arrival in Kahului, but is clearly at least 20 out on the water, I am told because of the Venturi Effect around the island.

Race Day sees at least 330 racer numbers in yellow jerseys. The Womens Open SUPs put on the water to be the first out of the staggered starts, followed by the Mens Open SUP, then the same pattern for the Elite SUPs. This year, we start inside the Bay and head out to a slightly upwind buoy, where there are plenty of funny falls and log jamming that happen before the corner is turned and we are all heading downwind in great conditions. Not so much swell, but tons of great bumps, and lots of sail with a great breeze. Personally, I am stoked to be doing the thing- not falling, passing people, holding my own as a guy rides right into me and we become an accidental catamaran of boards for a few seconds on a glide. Connor Baxter comes puffing past me to catch a glide I didn’t notice with my novice eyes bedazzled by all the blues and turquoises and sea turtles and ultramarine.
13119082_800811513386030_2248282510509836032_nRelax. Sprint-Glide-Repeat. Dance the whole time. Like nobody’s watching.

 

Afterward, the food and awards are standard in the good way, in the great way that keeps us coming back for more. Team Bluerush and Bay Area peeps clean some major house, most of them medaling. Remarkable! We get our free slippas, bubble gum pink for women, and something like “sticks and moss” color for the men. The full results for the race are here. An awesome photo album by 808photo as well! Dustin and Lucy bring me a lei with sea turtles painted on, and an inflatable giraffe swimmy ring to wear around my waist to keep me safe in the water, as a prize for being awesome. I crack up– how blessed! Maui Surfer Girls no ka oi! You’re the best summer camp for girls ever! Really, if you have girls 11-17 years old, consider it. I can’t say too much good about this camp and the associated women.

The week after OluKai we see the weather turn to more of a late Maui winter, with rain, and skies unmoving from the clouds socked in over the island. Get in a few prone surfs, and a hike in Iao Valley, hopping over the railing to go up the trail to a nice vantage point within the Circular Valley. We hike the Pali Trail, where the word is “dry”. The wind turbines at the top create a distinct sound as they turn, even in the minimal breeze.  Also score a snowboard sesh or two on some fresh pow up in the crater on the top of Haleakala. #syke

Paddle Imua day comes, and those of us who “suffer” on flat water on the mainland, in conditions just like this windless Saturday, choose to fight the good fight. Many folks and phenoms do not race, so the quantity of racers feels diminished from the previous week. Once we all get out on the seething Bay, however, and are getting sucked out into the sea en masse, before the horn goes off that I never even hear, we look and feel like a big group, or at least like a pulsing organism. People are falling left and right just trying to hold position before the race begins, and boards are getting knocked around, a few significantly dinged.

Finally out of the Bay, many of us stay on our knees awhile just so that we can do the thing. The ocean is coming at us in a cross-hatch of slow and fast pulses from all directions, mainly along the diagonal axis of my board, more from the north. It’s pretty much a Slap Chop, falling in, then lamenting I don’t have a Sham Wow to dry myself off. Along the way I have the low self esteem thought that I would be better off spending the time in front of a TV, with an Indo Board on top of a yoga ball, to catch up on the latest infomercials at the least while working on balance. It is monkey mind at its finest.

Finally plying into the Harbor ten miles later, releasing my leash and surfing onto the sand at the end, where hot paddler guys are clapping me into shore, I pitch forward and fall onto my hands in the sand in front of my board. I slap my hands into water to rinse them, and run up to the finish. I am greeted by a special needs kid from Imua Family Services, the benefactors of Camp Imua, which provides a traditional summer camp experience for children with special needs, with activities like horseback riding, water sports, and the like.

The teenager welcoming me in has a beautiful orchid flower lei in hand to put around my neck, and has just seen my biff. In the way that I love about children, especially in developmentally disabled children, he says exactly what he is thinking in his joy and excitement. He puts the lei around my neck, laughing, and says something about me as the “leggy lady”. I can’t tell if it is a compliment or a joke about my tripping up the sand, but judging by his laughter, I think it is the latter. I go instantly from the difficult ocean and self-centered struggle, to stillness on land and being punted into the reasons behind the Paddle Imua race: “It’s all about the kids.”

Despite the conditions, Paddle Imua proved brilliant in showcasing its awesome community and the sweet Maui paddlers. Full results for Paddle Imua here, and a great photo album by 808photo. Once again, Bay Area whipped up some medals. Finally, thanks so much to Jen Fuller for hanging, and for the copious belly laughs, and to John Walsh and the Bluerush team for leading the herd and running shuttles with us. Thank you all for being such a great, winning group of athletes!

 

Photos by the awesome 808photo.

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30th Annual Santa Cruz Paddlefest, Incoming!

30th Annual Santa Cruz Paddlefest, Incoming!

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Here comes the 30th Annual Santa Cruz Paddlefest! I remember back in 2006 or so, discussing with the committee and vying for considering bringing a SUP Surf category to the contest, because we’re all armed with paddles, and the more the merrier. Well, now we have no dearth of stand up paddlers at the Santa Cruz Paddlefest (SCPF), and there is more than enough paddle sport cross-pollination inspiration for all.

 

The Santa Cruz Kayak Surf Festival is what it was called back in 1999, when it was responsible for my moving to Santa Cruz right after graduate school (Cold Massachusetts winter, find festival blurb during internet surf, spring break in Santa Cruz, the rest history). Not that you really need to know this. But a little background, because the event advertising actually worked, and it’s my story. Now 30 years into its evolution, the Fest is here to stay. Surfers malign our paddle presence as we take over world class Steamer Lane for a long weekend during some peak March wave time. And if you think about it, in such a tight surfing real estate market like you have in Surf City Santa Cruz, we are so lucky to have this annual opportunity to showcase our sport(s) at such a sought-after surf destination.

 

As a collegiate rower first, then a raft guide and whitewater kayaker, I came to paddle surfing from rivers in warm southern mountains. Like so many participants at the Santa Cruz Paddlefest, it’s just natural to have a paddle in hand (or an oar as it were. Do you know the technical difference?). When the ancestors reincarnated SUP surfing for the mainstream, in part through images inserted by Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama, in my mind the concept of the Ultimate Waterman and the Ultimate Waterwoman was cinched. I was seeing up on the big screen, the place where river meets the ocean, recreationally speaking. It just touched a nerve.

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Probably I was simply stoked to see a paddle in a surf movie, as a freshwater kayaker freshly transplanted 2600 miles away from home into Santa Cruz, such a crux of massively flexing (and territorial) surf boarders. But it was more than that. My tool of choice, the paddle, was bejeweling the extremities of famous big wave surfers. Paddling and Surfing were getting married, and all of a sudden I was an adopted child with a brighter future. Whether surfing standing waves in a river, or surfing ocean waves that travel and finish at the shore, I was with others in a current of hybridization of all of our badass water sports. We could now surf a fuller palette of human hydro-athletic expression. I’m saying: Rad, yippee! Paddles and waves!

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To me, the Ultimate Waterperson reads, interprets, and rides water on the entire planet, as it flows from source to sea, attempting to master all possible crafts. The Ultimate, squared, Waterperson, is one who really gets the need, and works in big or small ways, for understanding what is at stake in stewarding and protecting flows from source to sea. I am on a plastic diet. Join me? I really admire Rivers for Change, for its mission of promoting source to sea literacy. One flower of their efforts is the California 100, a one day, 100 mile ultramarathon paddle race from Redding to Chico down the Sacramento River this June. Why not race, Laird and Dave, and tackle the challenge of negotiating current moving downstream?!

 

But I digress. Here we are about to celebrate 30 years of celebrating paddle surfing, at the birthplace of kayak surfing- Steamer Lane! The festival came into being well after kayak wave sliding began in the ’50s or earlier, as a response to the sport’s big boom in the mid-70s. In 2016, entries sold out so quickly, though the women’s surf kayak and waveski entries are still anemic, because I dunno. This year, prone paddleboard and outrigger canoe categories are on the docket for the SCPF Paddleboard Race on Saturday. As usual, there is a whitewater kayak category, and it is fun to watch them twerk the whitewater, a totally different expression than the traditional rule of surfing shoulders and faces.

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SUP Surfing will be, like, Major. Waveski will be Happenin’ at the Fest. World titled, second-generation everything shaper Ian Macleod- MACSKI– is contributing a waveski to the silent auction this year! Waveskis differ in that you sit on top of them and use a double-bladed paddle. And of course, we will have our original gangster category of Surf Kayak, yet that category is broken down further into High Performance (HP) for crafts under roughly 9′ long, and International Class (IC) for those longer. There are subtle and not so subtle differences in the species of paddle craft that will not be elaborated on here. Suffice it to say that paddle surfing is just so diverse. We could (literally) wax on about it for days, so that is what we will do at the 30th Annual Santa Cruz Paddlefest next week!

 

Finally, a quick shout out to the folks we’ll see from the California Women’s Watersports Collective! Their mission is to bring women ON!

 

PS:  Awesome photos, above, Bryon!  ExploringElements.com.
Also awesome photo below, property of MACSKI.

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The 2016 California 100 Adds 50 and 25 Mile Options!

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NEWS FLASH! In 2016, Rivers for Change added 25 and 50 mile options to the epic California 100, all starting together under the Sundial Bridge early on June 11, 2016! This means the race is ON for any and everybody! There is plenty of time to train and partake in the magic of the Sacramento River. We’re stoked!

I’m stoked! I went to go test paddle the River in late, cold, December. I was graced with the amazing hospitality of the “Crew” up in Redding. What I thought would be a decent river trip with nice people with my 19′ old school unlimited SUP board without a leash, turned into a beautiful experience with outstanding personalities whom I didn’t know before arriving. Aloha can so be found in cold places. So can bright, oversized drysuits in school bus yellow color. Once again- the paddling communities who paddle the River between Redding and Chico- the boundaries of the California 100- blow me away.

Cal-100-teaser-01-single-445x1024Back to the race. The California 100 will continue to be a pinnacle event for incredible paddle athletes. A 100-mile ultramarathon paddle race, in one day, is big time! If you are thinking about racing, hats off to you! R*e*g*i*s*t*e*r already, it’s open. 100 miles, 50, or 25 miles. Relay options. Open category for Adventure Class athletes who want to paddle a box down the river, or Competitive Class for those seeking the podium. No paddler left behind! -ish.

Three California 100 Training Clinics are scheduled for Saturdays in March, April, and May. Address distance paddling preparedness in the first. Breakdown a powerful forward stroke in the second. The third clinic is for finding your sea legs moving downstream on a river, which- ha!- can befuddle even the most seasoned Neptunian. Also, you will get a sneak peak and get your line for the first section of the race.

There’s something I want you to think about: The California 100 is an awesome thing in its own right for the paddling, but the race is 99.9% volunteer run by loving, hard-working individuals who give wholeheartedly. Race proceeds, and 100 percent of donations in general, support Rivers for Change in developing programming. We connect people to rivers. By doing so, we create stewards of the rivers and waterways we enjoy as paddlers.

This year we’ve also moved to a pledge format. Each racer pays a much smaller entry fee from previous years, at $56, but must raise $200 to race. This part. This is where we hope to increase revenues from the race, so that Rivers for Change can cover the costs of the race, but also funnel funds into programming. Programming that inspires a generation of river stewards and beyond.

 

2015 ChattaJack31: Woah.

2015 ChattaJack31: Woah.

It’s Wednesday, and I found my shoulders. I had left them on the side of a river in Tennessee, like so many tears and overused banjo references from people who think they know something about the south. Like my one ex from CA who tried to emulate a southern accent, then asked me with a serious eyebrow if North Carolina has a coastline. But I digress before I have even started, like so many niceties exchanged in the south before some quick question can be asked of a stranger.

 

Chattajack31: A mashup of Chattanooga, the event’s hometown, and “Jack” for many interpretations, all my own. One, we were all Jack’d up for this event, all 300 entrants and many wait-listed folks. What paddling event, in only its fourth year, sees 300 entries fill up within two weeks of opening registration, six months before the start horn? Two, we were all Jack’d up after the race with soreness or blisters or some other ailment. It is said that this brutal race does not leave one unscathed. Third, the field was Jack’d with fine athletes and paddling sport delegates. It was amazing just to stand amidst so much mastery. Finally, we were in Jack Daniels country, especially relative to where so many people hailed from for the race (Florida had the most racers, and plenty of winners!)

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I can’t catch them.

There must be a correct reason for the “Jack” part of Chattajack, but I’ll just wait to be scolded. The “31” is for the mileage and maybe a little bit of Halloween action. It was 31-plus miles of downstream, a word which usually implies current assist. Saturday, October 24, 2015 saw very little of that. It was like a lake paddle, especially after the first couple of switchback turns. No boat wakes were available to surf either- the wakes just came from the side and accounted for much of my start-stop action on the 25.5″ wide King’s board I used (14′), thanks to Gulf Coast Paddle Company‘s super southern hospitality.

 

The Tennessee River Gorge, its layers of ancient rock framed by green, semi-subtropical rain forest and/or intense fall color, is prettier than many places on earth. Geologically it is just amazing. It’s very old, which you can kind of feel. California knows nothing of this sort of slow, tortuous cutting through layers of rock for eras and epochs. The way the Tennessee River twists and turns back on itself is a monument to effort over time and determined charging ahead, like so many racers on Saturday.

 

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Of the 300 racers, there were 179 stand up paddlers on 12’6″, 14′ and unlimited. There were 14 folks running prone. SUP2 represented, including a man with his sitting child. Then there was a SUP4 family. Surfski, outrigger canoe, and kayak were all there as well. For women, there were 68 of us on stand up paddleboards, and get this: 27 were on 14′ boards! That was remarkable in itself, to have so many women to race against in my board class. Many women switched over to 14′ boards closer to the race date, but for the winning females on 12”6″, their shorter board length made no difference in their overall dominance and low times.

 

Just so you know, the 12’6″ and overall female winners (it was a tie, with the exact same electronically captured time to the hundredths of a second) came in less than a half hour after the top three winning men on 14′ boards. To break this down: Seychelle Hattingh and Kimberly Barnes, both from Florida, came in at 5:26:11.858, finishing this long-ass race less than ten percent behind the top three males on 14′ boards. Larry Cain, Bart deZwart, and Michael Tavares came in first, second, and third respectively, separated just by a few seconds each during the first half of the minute at 4:58. For the prone division, women killed again. California’s marathon swimmer Gracie Van der Byl was at 6:07:47, only minutes behind Reno Caldwell on his 14′ prone board at 5:58:04. Brian Pasternak took prone on his Unlimited board, at 5:24:09. Raise your hand if all of this is awesome to you. Full results can be found right here.

 

In a quick interview with former Olympic C-1 sprinter, capturing gold and silver for Canada in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, winner Larry Cain said the length of Chattajack is about as far as he wants to go for a race, yet second place Bart deZwart gets off on longer distance paddling. One thing that was made clear at Chattajack is that people are different. Duh, but really- no athlete is the same. Some people got massive, sweltering blisters on their hands, some nothing at all. Women rode shorter boards and were right up there with the men on longer boards. So much of the endurance game is in the mind. We just persevere. I came away 15th overall for women’s SUP, and 7th for the 14′ class; but excitedly, I think I came away with some athletes who want to join us this coming June 11, 2016 for the California100, an epic, one-day 100-mile downstream paddle race on the Sacramento River from Redding to Chico, benefiting Rivers for Change. This distance thing is beautiful.

 

Thanks again to Ben Friberg and partner Kimberly Sutton for directing this event, and thanks to the many not named here. I am not the only one saying that this event was the best run I’ve ever experienced. Even the next year’s date is already set for October 22, 2016! Everything ran so smoothly, and we were pampered with all sorts of swag and love and preparation and information. The raffle of an Epic V7 surfski, donated by Kayak Trader, and a 14′ SUP from BlkBox allowed the total donation to the Tennessee River Gorge Trust of over $4000 to be ten times higher than last year! The mission of the Trust is to keep the views along the Tennessee River sacred, and the water clean. If you take a look at this magical region, you’ll see why this is important, and it is working so far.

Some photos compliments of pilfering from Facebook that GoJAMMedia is probably happy about.