Hanks, Solbach soar at Bridge of Gods

Third-annual kiteboarding event attracts big wind, top amateur competitors

STEVENSON, Wash. — There’s never a guarantee when you rely on Mother Nature, but every once in a while, she rewards you for your patience.

Saturday’s Naish Bridge of the Gods Kiteboarding Festival not only attracted the region’s top amateur competitors; it also brought with it some ungodly winds — the kind that freestyle kiteboarders dream about.

“Stevenson is known for its smooth, steady wind, but it was really kickin’ at the start today,” said men’s competitor Jim Bison. “These are the conditions we were hoping for.”

Bison and the rest of the field — a total of 28 men and nine women — were treated to an afternoon of gigantic gales and swirling swells, which made the third-annual event one to remember.

“We really hit on our mission this year, which was to establish the Bridge of the Gods as the premier amateur kiting event in North America,” event coordinator Floyd Wilkes said.

“It’s well known that if you come to the Bridge and win, you’re ready to go pro,” he said.

The most likely competitors to make the jump would be men’s champion Sky Solbach of Lyle, Wash., and women’s champ Renee Hanks of Stevenson, who also finished second at last month’s Ford Gorge Games.

Solbach, who was coming off a fifth place at the Gorge Games and a third place at a world-class event last week in the Canary Islands, said he aspires to become pro, but was more focused on enjoying himself last weekend.

“Bridge of the Gods is all about having fun and laughing with your friends,” he said. “It’s a lot less of a media production and it really focuses on the local talent. That’s the draw for me.”

Despite his relaxed attitude, Solbach showed the spectators and the rest of the men’s field how far he has come, turning the trickiest aerial maneuvers and landing everything clean.

And, although the winner wasn’t a huge surprise, Adam Finer and Dave Smith of Hood River still put on a spectacular show to take second and third, respectively. Chip Wasson of San Francisco finished fourth.

On the women’s side, three more local upstarts — Karen Bureker, Stacy Boggs and Charlotte Buri, all of Hood River — also made their mark, rounding out the top four in the standings.

“It’s pretty safe to say that the best amateur riders in North America hail from the Gorge,” Wilkes said.

“As evidence of that, you don’t have many people from outside the area coming here to challenge them, while some of our top riders, like David Tyburski, can go elsewhere and win,” he said.

Wilkes thanked Tyburski’s New Wind Kiteboarding School, along with the Port of Stevenson, Naish Kiteboarding, Ultra Nectar, Wipika and Widmer Brewing for sponsoring the event.

Event director Cat Betts and volunteer Wayne Kirschner were also integral to its success.

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