This time last year, Bri Chmel was just getting the hang of kiteboarding.
But after winning last weekend’s King of the Gorge Kiteboarding Festival, the 19-year-old Bellingham, Wash., native showed that she will likely be hanging around for a while.
Riding for North Kiteboarding, Chmel sailed away with first place in the women’s division, beating out local standout Karen Bureker and Oakland, Calif., resident Jodie Taliaferro.
“I just went out to have fun, and was able to pull off some new tricks that I’ve only been practicing for a couple weeks,” said Chmel, a former national-level snowboarder who was polishing her kiting technique all winter in Baja with men’s champ, Jeff Roberts of Slingshot.
“I ride with these girls a lot, and I know that on a different day, someone else could win. But it all depends on the conditions,” she said.
Some competitors, like Chmel, preferred the strong — often gusty — wind conditions that graced the Hood River Event Site on Saturday. Others, like Roberts, leaned toward the more consistent winds that prevailed during Sunday’s finals.
“There were some light moments on Sunday, and it helped to have an underpowered kite,” said Roberts, a 2002 Gorge Games quarterfinalist and instructor at New Wind Kiteboarding School.
“I started riding underpowered kites last month, which has helped me practice some new moves. That ended up giving me an advantage against some of the guys who are currently riding at the same level,” he said.
Roberts was up against some of the top amateurs in the Northwest, including Hood River’s own Gary Reed (second place) and Alex Zavadsky (third). Other premier names in the men’s bracket included Adam Finer, Dave Smith, Brian Wheeler (fourth) and Trent Hightower.
“I knew who I was competing against,” Roberts said, “and it was making me nervous to watch those guys pull off such technical moves. But I was more consistent than I’ve been in the past, which helped a lot.”
In the end, the King of the Gorge Kiteboarding Festival was a resounding success. Event organizer Jeff Hughes of Big Winds said that he would “definitely” like to put together a follow-up event next summer.
“We’re already planning to do it again because everything went pretty smooth,” Hughes said. “We will probably start earlier in promoting it so we can encourage more sponsors and competitors to come aboard. But I think we ran a pretty good event under the gun.”
Hughes said the vision for the festival was born in January, but he didn’t really begin planning the event until March. A total of 32 athletes competed in the two-day event, while a host of local and regional sponsors got behind the effort.
Hughes credited title sponsors Naish and North for their support, as well as a host of other sponsors such as Da Kine, O’Neill, Hammersurf, New Wind Kiteboarding School, NSI, Reef, Red Bull, Subway, Rosauers, Clif Bar and Savino’s Lounge.
“It definitely took more time than expected to put the event together,” Hughes said. “But it went pretty well overall. The athletes were happy and we saw a good spectator turnout as well.”
Hughes said that the idea for the festival was born out of Big Winds’ desire to promote the sport of kiteboarding as a significant portion of its business.
“We had done three demo days for windsurfing in the past few weeks, and wanted to represent kiting as well,” he said. “But it’s harder to demo kite gear, so we felt that a contest would be the best way to give it some exposure.”
For more on the King of the Gorge, call Hughes at 386-6086.