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14th annual kitefest runs July 25-27 in Stevenson

High flying action at last year’s BOTG Kitefest from pro men’s division winner Jesse Richman, who is expected to defend his title at this year’s contest.

Photo by Adam Lapierre.
High flying action at last year’s BOTG Kitefest from pro men’s division winner Jesse Richman, who is expected to defend his title at this year’s contest.

The 2014 Bridge of the Gods Kitefest in Stevenson is set for next weekend, with the pro contest July 25, the amateur event July 26 and the Blow-out July 27. In its 14th year, the event is touted as the longest-running amateur kiteboarding competition in the country, and has successfully served as a platform for many young men and women aspiring to climb the ranks of the sport from amateur to professional.

Adding to the regular contests and fanfare, an addition to this year’s schedule is generating quite a buzz in the world local of wind sports: For the first time in BOTG history, windsurfers are invited to compete alongside kiteboarders. Specifically, on Friday a pro freestyle windsurfing event will be held along with the pro kite events, and on Sunday, windsurfers are invited to join the 17-mile Blowout race from Stevenson to Hood River.

Although windsurfers and kiters have gone head-to-head in past downwind races, this is the first Blowout in the long history of the event to officially combine both sports into one race. The format this year will build from a team-race format that saw great success last summer. Teams will be randomly drawn – pro kiters will be separated — and will consist of four kiters and one windsurfer. Although fastest-finisher honors will remain hotly contested, the team format also rewards groups that stick together, encourage one another and finish in a tight pack. Team scores are kept similar to cross country – the fastest finishers get the lowest scores for their team, but in this race, teams also get points subtracted if members finish consecutively.

“It’s a pretty cool system that encourages teamwork and strategizing in addition to individual performance,” said event co-organizer and emcee Grom Gormley. “The team format makes everyone in the race matter up until the very end, rather than having just the fastest 12 or so really trying and the rest just taking it easy.”

Gormley said he’s expecting about 100 kiters and windsurfers for the historic race and that, although an avid kiter, he’ll be rooting for the windsurfers because he wants to see an event that brings the two groups together succeed.

“I think everyone is really excited to see how the two sports will compete with, and against, one another,” he said. “From a kiter’s standpoint, I kind of thought windsurfers would want some kind of advantage to make it fair, like maybe a little head start. But the windsurfers we talked to said they didn’t want any advantage.”

The history of the Blowout dates back to the 1980s, with catamaran sailboats, and has since grown into a popular tradition for the Gorge windsurfing scene. Although kiters intermittently mixed in with the windsurfing blowout in years past, they weren’t traditionally considered official entries in the race, except for 2004, when the Blowout was held as part of the Gorge Games and included categories for both sports.

BOTG started running a kite-only blowout as part of its events in 2007, with 59 men and three women taking on the challenge. Meanwhile, the windsurfing crowd had been holding its own blowout for many years. Last year, however, organization of the windsurfing event faltered, and the Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association stepped-in at the last minute to make sure it happened.

Running the event again this summer wasn’t in the cards for the CGWA, and with no one else stepping up to run the event, it looked like it wasn’t going. Gormley said the idea to invite windsurfers to the event first came from Pepi Gerald, Columbia Gorge Kiteboarding Association President and owner of 2nd Wind Sports. The idea was very well received, Gormley said, and before long a freestyle contest Friday was being added to the schedule in addition to the co-mingled Blowout.

Gormley said spectators can expect a thrilling show on Friday, as momentum in the pro kiteboarding division of BOTG has grown considerably in recent years. As the event continues to gain stature in the kiteboarding community, more and more pros are adding it to their list of summer events. This season, Gormley says, should be extremely competitive and entertaining.

Time and place

Action starts July 25 with the first possible heat (wind dependent) at noon. Pro kiters, pro windsurfers and pro men’s strapless (also new this year) heats will run throughout the day, with the finals at the end.

Saturday’s amateur contest starts with registration at 8 a.m. and the first heat at 11 a.m.; categories include mini groms, juniors, strapless, masters, men and women, and heats will run throughout the day peaking with final rounds in the early evening.

Sunday’s Blowout starts with registration prior to the 11 a.m. riders meeting , although Blowout participants are highly encouraged to register either Friday or Saturday if possible. A rider’s meeting starts at 11 a.m., teams are formed at 11:30 a.m. and, wind allowing, the race will start at around 1 p.m. once everyone is on the water.

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