The Gorge Downwind Champs wrapped up today here at Hood River, Oregon, USA which saw some of the World's best paddlers battle it out on one of the World's best downwind courses.
Now in it's 2nd year, the 2016 Gorge Downwind Champs attracted an all star field of paddlers across SurfSki, Outrigger Canoe (OC) and Paddle Board (both SUP & Prone) who all arrived at this iconic Pacific NW venue to score a week of downwind runs.
The Gorge Downwind Champs is a unique event that includes 1 Race Day + 5 days of "Downwind Shuttles" where competitors are able to fit in as many downwind runs as they desire with a non stop shuttle bus (with trailer) service transporting competitors upwind 13km to Viento Park before screaming downwind back to Race HQ at Hood River.
It was not uncommon for competitors to fit in 3+ runs in a day when conditions were "on" and over 1200 paddle craft were shuttled during the week!
Downwind Conditions during the week were sensational!
Vaikobi Race Team- Gorge Downwind Champs 2016
A large part of the Vaikobi Race Team converged on The Gorge to battle for overall honour's in the championship race. Sean Rice (RSA), Mackenzie Hynard (AUS), Rachel Clarke (NZL), Jesse Lishchuk (USA), Sam Mayhew (NZL) and Ryan Paroz (AUS) were all backing up from a strong hit out in at the Canadian Surfski Champs in Squamish the weekend before.
USA's #1 SurfSki Paddler, Austin Kieffer had been honing his downwind skills at the Gorge in a quest to score an upset over the internationals in town which in addition to the above names included the Mocke Brothers- Jasper & Dawid from South Africa.
Austin Kieffer (USA)
Vaikobi in partnership with premium Vaikobi USA Dealer- Ocean Paddle Sports was stoked to get behind this fantastic event as major sponsors as well as providing competitors with access to the full range of Vaikobi performance gear at our Gorge Race HQ Store.
The 2016 Gorge Downwind Champs was this year part of the World Surfski Series (WSS) and Race Day was scheduled for Friday July 22nd with great anticipation for a cracking 23km Downwind Race.
Race Day eve saw significant thunderstorm activity hit the region around The Gorge which adjusted the weather pattern enjoyed over the previous week. Race day dawned with a mixed bag of conditions on the Hood River.
Race Conditions began with a fresh downwind section for the first 3rd of the race which petered out as competitors raced further down The Gorge. This decrease in wind and waves as the race went on, provided tough race conditions for competitors who had to use everything in the tank to keep on the pace.
In the OceanSki Women's event, it was always going to be a tough battle between the World's Top 3 Female SurfSki Paddlers. Teneale Hatton (NZL) the current World Champ, arrived fresh from winning the Canadian's the weekend before and was primed to rack up another victory, however former Molokai Champ Rachel Clarke (NZL) & Former World Champ Michele Eray (RSA) arrived pumped up and ready to take the Gorge Downwind Champs title.
Rachel Clarke (NZL)
Teneale was hot off the start and took out the Think Kayak Hotspot being first to the turning mark, 800 metres from the start. From there some great downwind conditions eventuated with Rachel Clarke relishing the runs to take the lead.
As the race went on, the runs became smaller and Teneale pulled away to claim a great victory over Rachel with Michele Eray finishing 3rd overall.
Rachel Clarke claiming 2nd Place in the Women's OceanSki
The Men's SurfSki Race saw Sean Rice scream out of the blocks to take the Think Kayak Hotspot and lead in the early part of the race.
Sean Rice (RSA)
With the Hood River being extremely tidal (running upwind), race strategy was critical with many competitors taking different sides of the river to minimise the amount of current they had to paddle against.
Jasper Mocke made the most of the conditions and took predominantly a middle line over the latter part of the race to score an emphatic victory over Sean Rice and Dawid Mocke in 3rd. Continuing a white wash for the South African's was Kenny Rice in 4th with Austin Kieffer (USA) in 5th place.
Jasper Mocke (RSA) moments from claiming victory in the Men's Surf Ski
Sean Rice on his way to taking 2nd place in the Men's Surf Ski
Austin Kieffer finishing in 5th place and 1st Place American in Men's Surf Ski
One of the fantastic features of the Gorge Downwind Champs this year was the growth of the OC division which saw 70+ OC1's & OC2's battle it out on the gorge.
In the OC Women's it was Lindsey Shank who took the win from Leanne Stanley and Anna Mathisen
In the OC Men's, Jimmy Austin claimed a strong victory over Aaron Napoleon with Brent Campbell in 3rd place.
For the first time this year, The Gorge Downwind Champs included a PaddleBoard division across both SUP and Prone which saw 22 competitors battle it out on the Gorge.
In the SUP Women's, it was Hanna Hill who scored a great win over Alison Fromm and Teresa Rogerson.
Jarkko Simonen held off Jan Boersma and Eric Starnes to take out the 2016 Gorge Downwind Champs SUP Men's title.
At this stage, due to a timing glitch for race organisers, full results are still not available, however stay tuned to event website www.gorgedownwindchamps.com for further details of the results as they come to hand.
Vaikobi would like to thank everyone involved with the 2016 Gorge Downwind Champs and we look forward to returning to an even bigger event next year, action packed with a full week of scorching downwinders!