Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Columbia Gorge SUP Challenge by Eli Fischbuch

Last month, was the Columbia Gorge SUP Challenge in Hood River.  This two day weekend event was packed full of excitement and races.  All the pro paddlers were at this race – like Connor Baxter, Kai Lenny, Danny Ching and it was very cool to be at the same event as them and to see them race.
 
Down-winder start photo: Taine Fischbuch
We arrived in Hood River a couple of days early and when we first drove into town the wind was HOWLING. There were big waves on the river – this is why this race is so popular but I have never seen anything like that before. I really wanted to get on the river to practice paddling in those waves but we realized that I couldn't just jump on this river by myself.  Luckily for me some paddlers from Vancouver that I have met at other racers were there and took the time to take me down the river a couple of times and give me some tips. I am really grateful to them for taking the time – thanks to Jason Lexa, Yannick Michaud, Tim, Dave, James and co.


Day one started out with the technical course race.  This was supposed to be the downwind race day but the wind had totally died down so they moved the downwind race to Sunday. This race was four laps with one lap being a mile long and had a lot of buoy turns.  It was a very long race for a course race! Even though there was a lot buoy turns, a lot of people were on 14 foot long boards.  I was on my 12’6 Naish javelin LE and was using my Werner Grand Prix S1000.

Eli rounding the buoy photo: Taine Fiscbuch
The groms went before every body else and they did two laps. There were tons of kids in this race which was neat to see.  After them it was the open women and the junior girls, they did four laps also.  After they finished it was the open and junior men. There was probably about 60 plus people in this race.

At the start I was really close to the people beside me so when the horn blew and I tried to get my first stroke I immediately hit the rail of the board beside me. I barley even got my blade in the water.  I went to try to paddle on my other and that was no better.  It was like this for a few more seconds and then I finally got a solid stroke.  By this time I was in the tail end of the middle pack. 

By the time I made it to the first buoy I almost came to a stand still because there was about 25 people trying to turn to go to the next buoy.  When I finally made it around the first buoy I actually passed a couple of people.  It was still a full out sprint to the second buoy even though there was a lot more paddling to come.  When I did the 180 degree turn around the second buoy I got into a nice pace for the longest stretch of the race.

When I started my fourth and final lap I started to get really hot and a little tired but I knew I had a little more gas in me to finish the longest course race that I have ever done. I was pretty tired at the end but felt good to have been a part of this race. 

The elite paddlers raced after the open races and it very exciting to watch them. All the pros were introduced before they went down to the beach. We got to watch Werner Paddles team member Lina Augaitis take second in her race – exciting!

Lina Augaitis going around the buoy with Annabel Anderson and Candice Appleby photo: Taine Fischbuch
The second day of this event was the down winder.  I woke up in the morning hoping for wind but sadly there was not even a breeze in the air.  I went down to the event site and there was still no wind.  After the skippers meeting there was still no wind.  But when we were driving to the start of the race the wind start to pick up and you could start to see little bumps in the water.  This was awesome because that is all you need. 

By the time the race was supposed to start the wind was really picking up – it wasn't as strong as when we did our practice runs but still much better than Saturday.  The start line was even more packed full of people because they had the men and women go at the same time.  I started to think that I might have an even worse start than the first race.  The horn went off and I jumped onto my board and started to paddle. To my surprise there was no body right beside me and I could get a good stroke in.  With this great start I headed to the middle of the river because you have to go around a buoy plus the wind is stronger in the middle of the river.  After I made it to the middle of the river I start to get into a nice rhythm and I started to surf a couple of little bumps.  I was having a lot of fun doing this, for a moment I forget that I was even in a race. 


About half way through the race the wind started to pick up a little more and made some bigger waves.  With bigger waves I had to focus a little more on not falling off my board.  While I was doing this I was keeping my head down and a huge sailboat just came up behead me.  This surprised so much that I almost fell off my board.  The good news is that this made me realize that I had to make way back to the south side of the river. When I finally got where I wanted to be I was basically towards the finish of the race. I just had to paddle around an island and then to the beach, so I started to paddle a little harder.  Then I made it to the last buoy I almost fell in turning around it but luckily I did not.  Then I made my final sprint into the finish line and sprinted up the beach to the finish line where I managed to finish second out of the junior men.  

Green River, UT

Green River, UT
Photo: Shawna Franklin