NUKING! The heat wave finally broke Sunday evening in the Gorge and delivered excellent conditions for the the Chase the Wind Freestyle contest Monday morning. Riders rigged sails in the 3-4 meter range and took to the water for what were some of the best conditions the IWT has seen in Gorge competition in years.
The wind was blowing 25 knots when the IWT crew arrived at the Hatchery. After a quick 8am skippers meeting, riders rigged their smallest freestyle gear, as the winds started gusting well over 30 knots. Local riders including Nathan Mershon, Tyson Poor and Rob Warwick opted for a smaller wave board & sail combo with plans to take to the air for some Gorge-style freestyle. Others, including Phil Soltysiak, Wyatt Miller, Bryan Metcalf Perez, and Yarden Meir chose to rig big with 95L freestyle boards and larger sails planning to focus on flat water freestyle on the inside. With more than enough wind, ramps & swell, there was something for every type of rider.
The first heat of the day went to the women. Gorge standout Roxanne Christensen and Dutch freestyler Arrianne Aukes were each showcasing their unique style in the challenging conditions. Roxanne used her local knowledge to her advantage in the large river swells completing smooth carving 360s, big shove-its, and an array of sliding tricks. Not to be outdone, Arrianne came with a bit more power and variety in her moves starting her heat with a stylish spock, followed by a clean forward, then a flaka and shaka to rack up enough points for the win.
Yarden MeirWith the wind and swell ramping up even more, the men’s fleet took to the water next. Riders were presented with the classic Gorge conditions- nuking wind and head high rolling river swell. The first rounds were action packed with 4 riders on the water at a time. Every time you looked up someone was flying off a large (port and starboard) ramp in the channel or sliding through the flat water on the inside with another spinning freestyle move. Moving through the IWT’s standard repechage format, competitors were able to go head-to-head in the semi-final and final rounds. Riders had the space and conditions to go BIG resulting in some nasty crashes and stellar success! Nathan Mershon styled through big back loops and forwards, Diony Gaudagnino threw a huge stalled forward and Yarden Meir closed the contest by landing a shifty. Ultimately, Phil Soltysiak showed that he was the man to beat landing what seemed like every trick in the book. Phil’s consistency and variety of maneuvers were unmatched earning him 1st place with Yarden Meir and Wyatt Miller taking home 2nd and 3rd place respectively.
With freestyle wrapped for the day and plenty of wind left, the slalom riders derigged and headed over to the Hood River Waterfront for the Slalom skipper’s meeting at 2pm. The Slalom started off with a bang, with riders hitting the mark right on the clock. It was a fast downwind course, but the wind in the first heat proved to be gusty with a few big holes. Xavier Ferlet and Diony Gaudagnino were best able to handle the holes gliding through on their big gear. Heats 2 and 3 were a little better filled in, and once again it was a tight battle between Diony and Xavier. In the end, after completing 3 heats, Diony was able to take the victory winning 2 out of 3 races. Rafal Leonczuk rounded out the podium in 3rd place. Thank you to all the local and visiting riders representing the US, Canada, Israel, Venezuela and Holland. It took a little while to for the wind to get going, but with a little patience every rider got the opprotunity to enjoy ALL the Gorge has to offer.
Text by Kaeley Dawson and Russ Faurot. Photos by Richard Hallman.