Photo by Adam Lapierre
2014 bridge of the gods kitefest mens pro division winner Nico Suriel (top) is pictured Friday in the midst of a trick called a Slim Chance.
Fueled by steady thermal winds and sizzling summer temps, the 14th annual Bridge of the Gods Kite Fest brought hundreds of kiteboarders and spectators to the Stevenson waterfront over the weekend for two days of friendly but fierce freestyle competition. The event – currently the Gorge’s only freestyle kiting contest – featured a showdown Friday afternoon between 26 professional kiters and an amateur contest Saturday, with several dozen kiters filling men, women, masters and groms divisions. The much-anticipated Blowout downwind race from Stevenson to Hood River was scheduled for Sunday, but had to be rescheduled for this coming weekend due to lack of wind.
Friday’s pro mens field kicked-off the weekend with exciting elimination rounds that later ended in a super final with six riders. Always a crowd-favorite and last year’s champion, Naish pro Jesse Richman, awed the sizeable crowd with his distinctive high-flying and often baffling maneuvers. A repeat was not in the cards for Richman, however, as he crashed on several tricks in the finals, including a kiteloop-720 just before the buzzer, which would have likely secured him a podium finish.
The battle for second and third place came down to Brandon Scheid and Rich Sabo, both Hood River residents – Sheid riding for Liquid Force kites and Sabo the regional rep for Best Kiteboarding. Scheid edged Sabo for second by landing several larger, more difficult unhooked maneuvers. Top honors, and prize money, in the field went to Dominican Republic kiter Nico Suriel who, after narrowly advancing beyond a tough semi-final round, put together one of the most technically-impressive performances in BOTG history.
In the pro women’s division, Colleen Carrol, Rachel Callahan and Mary Lacroix Samson finished one-two-three in an action-packed final heat held as the wind peaked in the late afternoon.
New to the event this year, a strapless (surfboard) category was added, and judging by the skill level of the top finishers and audience approval, the category will likely be back, bigger and better next year. Patrick Rebstock, one of the best strapless riders in the world, won the category, followed by summertime-gorge resident Matt Elasasser in second and event emcee and co-organizer, Grom Gormley in third.
Despite marginal wind in the forecast for Saturday, by early afternoon the breeze picked up enough to hold several rounds of the amateur contest, which has long been the backbone of the BOTG, its grassroots nature and its success in helping aspiring young kiters climb the ranks.
The Dominican Republic was well represented at the event as young Chase Hasch, in the Gorge from the D.R. for the summer, won the amateur men’s division over Hood River’s Brendan Kerr in second and Canadian Lucas Arsenault in third. In the women’s division Erin Mayer took first over Ashley Burnside in second and Savannah Boersma in third. Mayer and Boersma are both Hood River Valley High School students.
The “old dude” category, otherwise known as Masters, saw Jan Boersma – father of Savannah – finish in first, followed by Isaac Schumaker and Allen Beeler. On the other end of the scale, the grom division went Anthony Gegare, Ian Mount and John Michael Harmon, one-two-three.
Due to lack of wind on Sunday, event organizers were forced to delay the Blowout race until this weekend, with Aug. 2 being the scheduled date and Aug. 3 the no-wind backup day. The Blowout drew increased attention this year after BOTG decided to invite windsurfers to race alongside kiters in the event. For updated information about the Blowout, visit www.botgkitefest.com or www.nwkite.com.