After more than a year and a half of no racing – Connor comes out on TOP! The 2021 Gorge Paddle Challenge welcomes paddleboard racers after a long hiatus in the SUP events calendar onset by the pandemic. Starboard Dream Team rider Connor Baxter shows he hasn’t taken his foot off the pedal, maintaining a solid training regime and is set for a great 2021 race season – well, what’s left of it anyway.
Here is Connor’s Recap from the weekend’s events:
The 2021 Gorge Paddle Challenge was another phenomenal event in the fun town of Hood River, Oregon!
Leading up to this event, I definitely had some amazing butterflies as it had been 2 years since this event happened and a year and a half off of my last race in Paris in December 2019. It was a super epic feeling and when Saturday arrived and there was just the slightest chance of wind I was frothing!
The downwind race started at 11 am and it was lighter winds, but still, some bumps and the smoke had cleared up a lot from the days before. After being dropped off by my wife Anaé and son Trestle, I hit the water to warm up before the race started. I got lined up and had one thing on my mind – It’s go time!!! I was so excited yet nervous, but when that horn blew, it all went away and I hopped out of the water onto my Starboard All Star with some speedy strokes to follow.
I felt explosive and was able to jump into the lead and aimed straight for any bump on the horizon. After a solid 10 to 15 minutes of paddling, the bumps started popping up and I just started flowing with the swells. I truly just started soaking it all up and having fun on the water.
As the race went on, I was able to just find my rhythm in the small but fun bumps the Gorge had to offer. A little before halfway, like in previous years, I started to cross over to the Washington side looking for bigger bumps and faster water. Gliding over to Washington I still had a comfortable lead to allow me to just surf and connect bumps. I got about 3/4 over and noticed I wasn’t going to get anything better before having to cross back to Oregon for the finish line. So I put in some solid work getting my heart rate up and rode some fun rides, which definitely was the best section of the whole downwind run.
“The fun had to end at some point so I pointed my orange Starboard nose back to Oregon and started crossing back. Making sure to keep surfing and connecting bumps all the way to the finish line. Towards the end, it flatted out but I kept the gas pedal on for the final stretch. With the final turn to the beach I was filled with joy, as I was back doing what I loved. It was definitely a lot of work, but it reminded me of so many good memories of competing here for the past 12 years with Steve Gates – the founder and promoter of the event.
After the event, it was straight to refueling with some homemade pasta, good night sleep and I was ready for the course race on Sunday. The course consisted of five laps including one super lap, which is one lap you can take a shortcut on at any time.
The women started one lap ahead of us in some windy conditions for a course race. The guys lined up and I knew what I needed to do. I was next to Itzel Delgado and we both had a perfect start!! He had the inside on the first turn straight into a headwind. As we rounded the first turn I tucked behind Itzel’s draft so I could conserve some energy for the nice downwind leg. I was on the inside for that turn and burst out of it straight onto a bump heading toward the next buoy.
I jumped in the lead as we opened into the next stretch, which I held until the next buoy, where Eri Tenório took his super lap which gave him a solid 50-second lead. This didn’t bother me as I knew this was bound to happen and took advantage of being in the virtual lead, saving my super lap later, and being able to chase someone.
I held a solid pace upwind and no one was able to bridge the gap to catch me. I utilised every downwind leg to further increased the tempo and increase my lead, saving my super lap for the end of my fourth lap, slingshotting me back into the lead at the start of the final lap. This gave me a huge surge of energy to power through the last lap rolling me into a clean sweep for the weekend.
I soaked it all in and was just feeling grateful to be competing again with some familiar faces.
I want to thank my sponsors for all their support – Starboard, Salt Life, Salt Life Sunglasses, Black Project and Vital Performance, Harmless Harvest Coconut Water, Haleakala Solar, GoPro, Hi-Tech Sports.
Also a big Mahalo to all the event organizers and all the volunteers.”
— Aloha, Connor Baxter
You can stay in touch with Connor:
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