Over the past eight years, Hood River’s Waterfront Park has become home to one of most recognized standup paddle boarding events in the world: The Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge.
This year’s annual challenge begins on Aug. 17 with a kick-off party at Kickstand from 5:30-10 p.m., followed by two full days of professional and recreational standup paddleboarding competition on Aug. 18-19.
The Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge features a Downwind Double Down Distance Race (two back-to-back downwinders) and a Course Race; both events are opened for all ages and race classes.
“This event has morphed into one of the three most competitive SUP race events in the world,” said Steve Gates, president of Big Winds. “It draws professional and recreational competitors from all over the world.”
For the elite division of paddlers, this year’s WPA-sanctioned race is one of nine major events in this season’s Paddle League World Tour.
“This year, the Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge will be one of the most important events on the pro tour in crowning a World Champion at the end of the year,” said Gates. “It’s consequently drawing an even larger international field than ever.”
What’s intriguing about this event for paddlers locally and internationally, outside of the chance to win a major SUP event, is the Downwind Double Down Distance Race on Aug. 18.
“Downwind racing has put Hood River on the world map as one of the premier paddleboard spots on the planet,” said Gates. “Competitors race upriver from Viento State Park for eight miles with the iconic Gorge winds at their back, finishing at the Waterfront Park. This is a thrilling race for pros and recreational racers alike.”
At the challenge this weekend, cash prizes are awarded for the top-six finishers in the elite division, with the top prize being $2,000 for the first-place finisher in both the men’s and women’s Downwind Double Down Race and a top-prize of $1,500 for the first-place finisher in both the men’s and women’s Course Race.
As important and intriguing of an event this is for professional paddlers, Gates explained how the recreational class of competitors happens to be “heart of the event.”
“It is truly the recreational class of competitors, ranging from 8 years old to 70-plus years old, that is the heart of the event,” said Gates. “There are super fun and exciting races for the Groms (13 and 14 years old) and Super Groms (12 and under) that kick off an action-packed day of Course Racing on Aug. 19 at the Waterfront Park. Everyone that has even modest paddling skills will love competing in these races and the spectators have a front row seat to all the action.”
In addition to all the professional and recreational events next weekend, there will be separate races for Foil SUPs and Small Boats (Surf ski, OC-1, and OC-2), SUP exhibits from many companies, SUP demos, beer, wine, and local food.