The 2023 Gorge Paddle Challenge was an absolute blast and such a classic grassroots event. The weekend kicked off with the famous Viento Road. It’s an 8-mile downwind up-river race that typically has some amazing bumps and glides to catch. Unfortunately, the wind wasn’t cranking for Saturday’s downwinder but just enough to make some fun bumps.
The 2023 All Star was the perfect weapon for this mission paired with my large Lima blade. It was a water start sitting down which always makes it exciting. The red flag went up meaning 3 minutes till the start and I was ready to blast off the start line. As I prepare for the green flag I leaned forward and the anticipation was at all time high. Once the green flag went up and the horn blew I jumped to my feet as quickly as possible in order to have a perfect start. I managed to quickly organize my stroke and start to hunt down little bumps.
The thing I love most about downwinders is that there is no drafting so everyone chooses their own line and is looking for bumps to glide on. I stayed on a good pace and once I was a quarter of the way into the race I managed to have a comfortable lead right in front of Arthur Arutkin. I didn’t get to relax even with the lead and was pushing hard for each and every bump. As the race went on the wind lightened up and the swells started to disappear but at this point I already had the lead, so just needed to stay in front and made sure not to be too close to anyone for the last flat water part.
As I came in I was super stoked and excited to win again here in Hood River but had to already start thinking/ preparing for the next day which was the course race. After a big dinner, good rest I was ready for action and to battle it out on the race course.
The next day I woke and look out toward the river and the wind was already up and a lot winder then the day before. This made the course race a lot harder but at the same more potential to break away from the pack with every downwind leg. It was a three-lap course with one hot lap, meaning you could take a shortcut on your first or second lap. The course consisted of 6 turns making it very exciting and technical especially with the wind being up. As I lined up on the start line I made to have a good position to shoot for the first turn.
I started in about knee-deep water ready to jump straight to my feet and hammer to the first buoy turn. Knowing that after the first turn I would have to pound into the wind I decided to stay behind Itzel Delgado to conserve a bit of energy and prepare for the downwind section. On the first lap, I didn’t want to give everything I had so I pushed hard while saving a bit of energy for the next two laps. Arthur and I were able to jump in front and now it was a race for first and second. I decided not to take my super lap on the first lap and a few guys did which allowed them to jump into the lead. I was stoked because now I had a target in front of me that I could chase down. The second lap I tried to gain some ground on Arthur but he was able to stay right next to me so this made us take our super lap together and we were back into the lead for the final lap around. I conserved energy upwind in preparation of gunning it for the one downwind section. Once I turn the upwind mark I put my head down and pushed hard to catch every little bump.
I somehow managed to get a small but nice gap on Arthur making it a clean sweep over the weekend and claiming the overall title. Adding another Gorge Paddle Challenge victory onto the list and another fabulous event once again. Big thanks to all my sponsors Starboard, Salt Life and Black Project.
~ Connor Baxter