The 2014 Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge is over, but we have interviews with stand up's top racers including Annabel Anderson, Connor Baxter, and Fiona Wylde.
Annabel Anderson, 1st Place – Women's Elite, Double Downwinder, and Overall Women's Champion
Annabel wasted no time this weekend, leading every race from the front of the pack. Despite a grueling second-day race that had a break between eight mile legs, Annabel had a set strategy.
"Just go out, enjoy it. Read the water better than everyone else." Anderson made the rest of the stacked field chase her and didn't mind being on her own out front. The wind didn't always cooperate in the Columbia Gorge, but Annabel made the most of it and found herself enjoying the scenery along the way.
Despite making the adjustment from a five mile, turn-heavy course race the day before and having a break in the middle of the race on day two, none of it phased Anderson.
"I had it all planned out and dialed."
Annabel's overall impression of the event was a positive one and she even found a little bit of home in the waterside town. Hood River, Oregon may be a few thousand miles away from her home in New Zealand but they shared a lot of similarities.
"It's felt like being at home. It's been great."
And despite being all over the map (literally) with competitions, she's happy with the results and has about as positive an outlook as one can.
"One day, one wave, one event at a time."
Connor Baxter, 1st Place – Men's Elite, Double Downwinder, and Overall Men's Champion
Connor Baxter has been a dominant force in the standup paddleboarding world and he meant business at the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. Day one of racing was tricky as a large competitive field meant not much room for a clean start. The boards were rail to rail and with his first stroke, he took a swim--not an ideal beginning for what would be a tricky race.
Instead of leading from the front and getting into a comfort zone amongst the leaders, Baxter expended more energy than he would have liked playing catch up. He took advantage of the "carnage" around the buoys on the last lap and "turned and burned" all the way to the finish.
The double down presented a different set of challenges. The first leg had some good steady downwind but that Columbia Gorge patented wind died and later turned into a cross wind. "That last one all I can say was brutal," Connor said.
Part of the challenge of the downwinder was taking the break in the middle of the race, something Connor said was not ideal.
"Having that pause in there, your body, your heart rate--everything goes back down and it's actually starting its recovery process."
Despite the break, Baxter battled through to finish first in both events and claim the title of overall men's champion.
Fiona Wylde, 3rd Place – Women's Double Downwinder, 7th Place – Women's Elite
One of the best stories from the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge is Fiona Wylde--the hometown girl who's killing it at just 17 years old. Having just returned from a big win in a wind surfing competition (excuse my brain for saying kite surfing), she was excited to get on familiar water.
And part of what was special about competing this year was the prestige the event has achieved in just its fourth year.
"To come home and see the top athletes in my sport here in my hometown is more than words can describe. It's an honor to be here."
Fiona has literally grown with the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge, competing in and winning the Open event the first year, competing in the Elite race in year two, and winning that event the following year. She finished third in the downwinder this year and was a tough competitor in the course race.
The conditions for the first day of racing may not have been ideal for Wylde as it was hot and windless, but Fiona has a "no excuses" attitude. But having grown up in Hood River, her ideal conditions include "wind and waves to make it a more technical race."
More than anything, Fiona is glad to have the competition grow into what it has become and definitely had the hometown crowd behind her with every stroke. This girl is a force to be reckoned with.
Men's Top 10 Double Downwinder Race Results:
1 Connor Baxter
2 Georges Cronsteadt
3 Travis Grant
4 Jake Jensen
5 Danny Ching
6 Bruno Tauhiro
7 Andrea Logreco
8 Chase Kosterlitz
9 Travis Baptiste
10 Slater Trout
Women's Top 10 Double Downwinder Race Results:
1 Annabel Anderson
2 Angela Jackson
3 Fiona Wylde
4 Candice Appleby
5 Sonni Hönscheid
6 Andrea Moller
7 Lina Augaitis
8 Shae Foudy
9 Shannon Bell
10 Devin Blish