As the 2002 Ford Gorge Games kick off this weekend, race officials and competitors are saying a little prayer.
After last year’s less-than-savory diet of wind — one which left the freestyle windsurfing and kiteboarding field in limbo for days — they may even be inclined to seek the help of a sorcerer, a witch doctor, or anyone who can ensure that this year’s competitions blow off without a hitch.
But before the high-flying aerial stylings can begin, racers in this year’s Blowout event are doing some praying of their own.
The 17-mile downwind race from Stevenson, Wash., to Hood River is scheduled for either today or Sunday, assuming the wind gods choose to cooperate.
“Obviously, if there’s not enough wind, the Blowout can’t happen,” Gorge Games spokes-person Pete Lagiovane said. “If it doesn’t happen this weekend, it will be on-call next week.”
As for the freestyle events, Lagiovane said that windsurfing competitions typically require more wind than kiteboarding, and that both will be on call Monday through next Sunday.
A decision whether to hold the competition will be made at 6:30 a.m. the day of, and competition will begin at 9 a.m. for windsurfing; 10 a.m. for kiteboarding.
Total prize money for each of the freestyle competitions is $20,000, while the Blowout will dole out $2,000 to the winners.
By far the fastest-growing discipline of the two is kiteboarding. This year’s event will feature an expression session from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and a freestyle competition from 1-5 p.m.
A field of 32 men and 16 women will compete for the top prize. Some of the pre-qualified male athletes this year are Flash Austin, Mark Doyle, Gary Reed, David Tyburski, Julien Sudrat and 2001 champ Adam Koch.
On the women’s side, Julie Prochaska, Sheldon Plentovich, Cindy Mosey and Helen Richard will head up the world-class field.
Competition is a single-elimination format leading up to the final round, which will feature two kiters per heat.
Among this year’s top male freestyle windsurfing competitors are Nathan Mershon, Sean Aiken, Alex Cazanas, Casey Gingrich, Mitch Gingrich, Eddy Patricelli and Web Pedrick.
Leading the women’s field will be Jennifer Henderson, Jocelyn Hrkach, Nori Hubbs and Tamira Wagonfeld.
Judging will be based on the overall impression made throughout each heat. Sailors who can exhibit a variety of maneuvers will score higher than those who perform the same moves repeatedly.
To find out the latest wind conditions, spectators are encouraged to call the Gorge Games Wind Hotline at 541-308-1067.
For additional information on the 2002 Ford Gorge Games, visit www.gorgegames.com or stop by Port Marina Park in Hood River.