If we had to choose one word to describe the downwind conditions at the 2022 Gorge Paddle Challenge (GPC) it would be “nuking.” Absolutely Nuking. The Gorge Paddle Challenge, founded by the late Steve Gates, has been sponsored by SIC for the past four years and is now one of the season's most anticipated events. This year, 230 participants had the opportunity to test their paddling skills and experience the Gorge at its finest.
With its unrivaled conditions, Hood Rivers's unique venue is home to some of the best downwind paddling in the United States. The eight-mile course from Viento State Park to the Waterfront Park is where racers test their skills, carefully choosing their lines from the controlled chaos on the Oregon side of the river to the big swell sleigh-ride of the Washington side. The lower waterfront park area serves as home base for the GPC—the banks of the Columbia Gorge provide perfect stadium style seating for the course races and kids' events.
The Friday Funday kids event kicks off the GPC every year. This year, 75 kids joined 3x SUP world champion Fiona Wylde, the SIC Maui team, and other supporting athletes who shared training tips on the land and an unforgettable paddling experience on the water. The youth event is an important focus every year as it helps foster growth in the SUP race community. Fiona Wylde not only started as a youth paddler at the GPC but now continues the legacy that both she and Steve Gates built supporting young paddlers.
Wing foiling continued to surge at the GPC with 68 participants registered for the Wing Foil Downwind event. Wing Course racing jumped to 50 total participants and the SUP Foil downwind, a popular new category, had 30. The foiling category is on the rise and is here to stay with new divisions potentially coming in the near future.
GPC Day 1
On day one, downwind day, Mother Nature delivered stellar winds blowing 35 knots and gusting to 40 knots. Downwind paddling is SIC Maui's heritage and it was great to see the large number of SIC paddleboards in the Gorge. OC-1, prone paddle, SUP foil, and wing foil joined paddleboarders in the near-perfect downwind conditions that challenged even the most seasoned veterans.
“Downwind day is my favorite event at the GPC and it always has an exciting vibe! This race is all about the conditions and we had the best conditions that we have ever had in this event."
Global Athlete Bodie Von Allmen
In the downwind elite men’s division, 16 year-old Global Athlete Bodie Von Allmen continued to impress. Racing against seasoned veterans, he finished strong in third place withSIC Global Athlete David Leao from Brazil close behind, taking fourth.
In the downwind women’s elite division, SIC Maui Global Athlete Jade Howson dominated, taking home first place. Another impressive performance was displayed by16 year-old Youth Development Athlete Alex Ostrowski from Mexico, who finished in an impressive 5th place.
13-year-old superstar Soryn Preston, one of the newest members of the SIC Youth Development team, kicked off her multi-division domination, winning both the grom and the junior girls downwind races. SIC Youth Athlete Trace Ostrowski from Mexico also took first place in the junior boys division.
Day two was course race day. This event is always a crowd pleaser because of the bird’s eye view spectators have from the banks of the Columbia Gorge. The wind dropped to a manageable 12 knots, which set the scene for an exciting day of competitive racing.
On the men’s elite course, SIC’s David Leao took an early lead over Connor Baxter on the first lap. Connor pulled ahead on lap two and held onto for the rest of the race, with David finishing in second. Immediately following David, in SIC freight train fashion, was Bodie Von Allmen in third place and Campbell Carter in fourth, proving again that the SIC Maui’s Youth Development Team has some exceptional talent.
Global Athlete Jade Howson dominated again in the women's elite course, racing far out in front for much of the event and taking home first place. Soryn Preston finished near the top in the elite division taking fourth and Alex Ostrowski landed in sixth place. Racing in one event is typically enough for most paddlers, but not for Soryn. She raced three events in one day, winning both the grom and junior girls divisions.
“It felt awesome to be back on a raceboard after being in school. The Gorge by far is my favorite race of the year. I’ve had no expectation going into either race this year since I was trying to focus on school. I’ve been training all summer so it’s super awesome to come out on top!”
Global Athlete Jade Howson
Good old fashion racing fun in the form of SIC Maui’s One Class tandem racing capped off the weekend at the GPC. Kids and pros, and pros and pros teamed up on 14’ RS Air paddleboards, for paddling and bumping around buoys. Creativity with how you get to the finish always wins in One Class even if you come in dead last—the smiles, laughs, and loud cheering truly depicts the heart of SIC Maui’s One Class racing.
For more pictures from GPC: https://www.facebook.com/PaddleChallenge
Definitive dates are coming soon for the 2023 Gorge Paddle Challenge. Stay tuned...