The beach at the Port of Skamania in Stevenson was crowded with spectators and kiteboarders alike all last weekend, who came from around the Gorge, around the country, and around the world to take in the 16th Annual Bridge of the Gods Kite Fest.
Photo by Ben Mitchell
Brandon Scheid, of Hood River, performs an aerial maneuver for the judges.
The event — billed as the longest-running freestyle kiteboarding competition in the country — featured a pro competition Friday, and amateur competition Saturday, and a downwinder race on Sunday called the Blowout. In recent years, the Blowout had to be continually pushed back to a different weekend due to uncooperative weather, but Sunday’s stiff winds allowed the race to go on and featured a jam-packed field of 69 competitors who raced down the Columbia to Hood River. The freestyle competition division featured a total of 79 competitors — about 20 more compared to last year’s event.
A testament to its popularity, the kiting festival attracts some of the biggest names in the sport every year. Grom Gormley, one of the event organizers, stated during his emceeing of the pro division on Friday that Kite Fest competitor Karolina Winkowska, of Poland, is considered the best female kiteboarder on the planet. It showed, as Winkowska kite-looped and slim-chanced her way to a first-place finish in the women’s professional division.
But despite the big names, Bridge of the Gods Kite Fest has always been more geared toward amateurs and particularly about their progression in the sport. Winners of the amateur event have a chance to advance their kiteboarding careers to the professional level, receiving swag and exposure at the event and the opportunity to perhaps ride professionally for a kiteboard company.
Winkowska was followed up by Katie Potter, Lindsay McClure, Colleen Carroll, and Rachel Callahan in the women’s pro division finals. Potter also won the dubious distinction of best wipeout.
The top honor in the pro men’s division went to Oswald Smith, who hails from Cape Town, South Africa — another prominent kiteboarding locale. Next was Ewan Jaspan, Brandon Scheid, John Perry, Rocky Chatwell, and Drew Christianson. The Stoke award went to Sam Medysky.
In the strapless division, North Carolinian Reider Decker took first, with the finals rounded by Matt Elsasser, Evan Netsch, Reece Myerscough, and Graham Harney.
In the finals for Saturday’s amateur competition, Jack Rider, who hails from Vancouver, B.C., took first place in the men’s division, followed by Vetea Boersma, Brian Frink, and Grant Harmon. For the women, Aussie Kenzie Carlstrom took the gold, leading Isabel Von Zastrow, Crystal Veness, Savannah Boersma, and Darcie Gray.
In the men’s masters, Cali resident Nemo Taylor (also winner of the “Finding Nemo” award) was the top of the heap, leading a field that included a man who registered as “Guacamole DeeJay,” Aleen Beeler, and Serge Romano. For the women, Stevenson’s Carol Bolstad took first, Nina Ergin took second, and Machelle Dotson took third.
In the groms (ages 13-18) competition, it went Tomas Aguirre, JonMichael Harmon, and Sean Karam and for the Mini Groms (12 and under) the order was Izak Kantor, Tim Walsh, and Kenton Romano.
Other awards in the amateur competition went to Romano (Sportsman), Dotson (Stoke), Andrew Muse (Wipeout), and Makiley Olson (Future, given to a rider to help them achieve their kiteboarding goals).
Sunday’s Blowout competition resulted in a victory for Netsch, who was first to the finish in Hood River. Rounding out the top five for the men were Medysky, Eric Rienstra, Elsasser, and someone who got fifth place, but did not register a name. Callahan placed first for female competitors (26th overall), followed by Justi Vonada (27), and Tonia Farman (28). For teams, Tony Bolstad’s placed first, Cory Roeseler’s placed second, Vonada’s took third, Netsch’s placed fourth, and Medysky’s took fifth. Other awards in the Blowout included Mike Billets (Pony Tail) and Jessie Richman (Longest Body Drag).
For more results, head to the Bridge of the Gods event page (search for “2016 Bridge of the Gods KiteFest” on Facebook) or go to the website at botgkitefest.com.
Hood Jam freestyle kiteboarding event Aug. 5-12
Another freestyle kiteboarding event will be held in the Gorge soon: The Hood Jam competition will run Aug. 5-11. The event is run through the Slider Project a grassroots community of kiteboarders who helped build what they refer to as “the world’s only free-standing, kiteboarding park,” which is located near the Hood River sandbar — you’ve probably noticed the features out in the water, which consists of a dance floor, a kicker, and a rail. Riders are filmed performing tricks on the features in the weeklong competition. Last year’s awards featured no sponsors, no prize money, and only bragging rights, according to an article Rich Sabo (also an organizer of Bridge of the Gods Kite Fest) in the Fall 2015 issue of The Kiteboarder magazine. For more information, go to The Slider Project’s website (thesliderproject.us), Indiegogo page (indiegogo.com/projects/the-slider-project), or Facebook page (Slider Project).
Kiteboarders in action during the pro competition Friday at the 16th Annual Bridge of the Gods Kite Fest in Stevenson. All photos by Ben Mitchell.