Words & Photos: Connor Cox
At The Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge you find an amazing mix of locals and professional athletes from all around the world there to compete, socialize, and help build the sport. It is great to watch different family members compete in a variety of divisions, ranging from Men’s and Women’s Elite all the way down to Groms and Super Groms aka the future of the sport. With over 350 competitors this event was sure to be a great one!
Walking around the Hood River Waterfront Park you meet all sorts of people either getting ready, resting, or just finishing a race. The beach boasted booths set up from all different vendors, great food carts, live music, and free SUP Lessons and demos.
Coming in first in the women's elite race we had Annabel Anderson (Luhia Kia team rider) she also won in 2014 and 2015 races. In the Men's elite and the downwind race the “fastest paddler in the world” Connor Baxter took 1st while holding a steady lead the entire race. Starboard had a great turn out claiming majority of the podium spots overall.
Aside from the competition the event is a great place to be, even if you are just watching the races. With the gnarly temperatures it was not hard to stay cool with the Columbia River waters right there to take a dip in.
Some of the races have so many people in them that it is insane to watch them attempt to paddle in such a tight group. The most inspiring moment was seeing Jonas Letieri from ̃o Paul, a double arm amputee at the elbows, paddle his heart out and have such a great time doing it. Later in the day the announcers asked him a few questions about his thoughts, and it was incredible to hear how stoked on life he was.
All around this was a great event that has grown over the years and will continue to be a staple in the northwest and one of the best inland downwinder races of all time.