We wanted to Congratulate F-One Rider Josh Riccio on a job well done in the Gorge! We asked Josh a few questions about the event, location and of course the board he was riding in the 2018 Columbia Gorge Challenge!
Josh, how were the conditions this year at the 2017 Columbia Gorge Challenge?
I think most participants would agree that race conditions this year at the Gorge Paddle Challenge (GPC) were pretty challenging. For some reason every year I have been coming to Hood River for the GPC (4yrs total), the conditions have always been really tough on race day. The ﬁrst year I passed out during the second downwind run due to no wind and a lack of nutrition/hydration, 2015 was completely ﬂat and the wildﬁres were so bad at times you couldn’t see across other side of the river due to the smoke. 2016 Had great wind for the downwinders, but the strong wind made the 5 mile course race extremely grueling.
This year was no different, like always the best downwind conditions occurred a few days before the event so it was awesome to get some really fun runs in with friends before the wind lightened up and the conditions went from great to mediocre. Luckily there was enough wind on Saturday to run the double downwinders. During the ﬁrst downwind run the wind was pretty light creating bumps that were stacked very close together making the length of any 14’ board difﬁcult to negotiate over the bumps, I found myself really ﬁghting the river during my ﬁrst run because although it was easy to catch the bumps and stay in the troughs, the close interval made it difﬁcult to paddle over the bumps and onto next the one which is essentially how you open up gaps on paddlers behind you and close gaps on paddlers in front of you. The ﬁrst downwind run at GPC was probably the most frustrating downwind run for me this year and by the sounds of it for many other downwinders who were hoping for a big result in the bumps at GPC, I believe I ﬁnished 20th at 1:05:48 on my ﬁrst run.
Thankfully conditions improved for the second downwind run. The wind increased creating larger bumps that were more spaced out, which allowed the 14’ boards more room to accelerate in between bumps making it easier to paddle over bumps and close/open gaps on other paddlers. I think I ran a much better line on the second run and deﬁnitely enjoyed the bigger conditions because there was more space to work with in between the bumps. Even though I managed to ﬁnish in between Connor Baxter and Kai Lenny on the second downwind run at a time of 1:03:25 it still wasn’t fast enough to break top 10. To me this just goes to show that downwinding in the river is very different then what we see and train on year round in Maui. Hats off to Bernd Roediger for ﬁguring out the ocean and the river. Don’t get me wrong I love visiting and paddling in Hood River so after being humbled yet again in the downwinders this year, I’ve already decided I’m gonna ﬂy to Hood River earlier next year to downwind on that river as much as possible before the event. I think all the time I spent doing Maliko runs and channel crossings this summer in Hawaii, made me accustomed to downwinding in much bigger conditions, so I simply gotta spend more time on that river to crack top 5, which is my goal for 2018 GPC.
The course racing was scheduled for Sunday which was forecasted to be the lightest day of wind but by the time the elite men and women’s course racing began the wind was blowing making the course very challenging because by design of the course the racers had to negotiate the wind from every angle (front,left,right,back). This made the course race very dynamic because you could separate from the paddlers around you on the downwind leg as well as the hot lap, which in the past was usually the only opportunity to really shake things up, in what is typically a tight drafting race. Although there still was a lot of drafting involved positions would change drastically on the downwind leg which was about 600m long.
Did you have a speciﬁc strategy going into this year’s event?
Last year I got to do some downwind runs with Fiona Wylde and Macrae Wylde before the event so I was fairly conﬁdent in the line I wanted to take and had my landmarks dialed in for the downwind runs. I was hoping that all the time I put in training on Maui this summer for the 32 mile Molokai 2 Oahu race would have me more than prepared for the (2) 8 mile downwinders and 3-5 mile course race at GPC. This years M2O really drained me physically, to a point that I have been in recover mode since that race on July 30th. Therefore, I honestly didn’t enter this year’s GPC with the strongest mentality that I should have had but after talking to Travis Grant about ﬁnishing out the sup season after a big M2O effort he admitted its tough to bounce back for GPC so you just hope that your downwind experience can get you through these events as well as that mental toughness you gain from doing solo M2O’s. I deﬁnitely wanted to do well in this event because it’s the most competitive 14’ downwind race in the world so I was hoping for a big result this year but surprisingly my best result came in the upwind, sidewind, downwind grind of a course race on Sunday. I actually really enjoyed the conditions we had for the course race this year because you had to negotiate the wind from every direction, this allowed for more position changing to occur then what is typically is seen in a course race. I managed to get a good start and by the ﬁrst the end of the ﬁrst downwind leg found myself somewhere around the 10th position, since I had a good start and was pretty much with the front pack I wanted to wait to use my hot lap when the guys around me used there, so that we could work together by taking turns drafting and pulling each other. Titouan Puyo, Lincoln Dews, and Arthur Arutkin managed to slip in front of everyone through the chaos of the ﬁrst 2 buoy turns on the ﬁrst lap, which gave them about 10 seconds of seperation, I was in the ﬁrst chase pack which after two laps consisted on Travis Grant, Toby Kracknell, James Casey, and myself roughly in that order. Since Toby, James and I were drafting Travis we took our hot lap when Travis broke for his, this gave us a little more separation from the pack chasing us because they were bunching up in their buoy turns giving us a little more space on each turn, this was largely due to the paddlers on the dugout style race boards, which are extremely difﬁcult to perform fast buoy turns on even for the most elite paddlers. I was stoked to run a clean and smart race on Sunday and managed to sneak onto to the podium with a 6th place ﬁnish in the course race.
This year they implemented a “Water Start” verses the “Beach Start” that has been done in the past. What are your thoughts on the Water vs. beach starts and how did it go this year for you?
Huge thanks is owed to Steve Gates the event organizer and Chase Kosterlitz for working together to let the athletes help determine the best way to provide clean starts for each race this year at GPC. I’m always an advocate for a clean and fair race which must begin with a clean start. In the past there was deﬁnitely some areas on the start line that gave you an advantage which I think we were all happy to eliminate this year with a clean and fair water start for the downwind races and heats for the course race so everyone had elbow room as well as a clean and fair start. I think everyone would agree the starts were very clean and fair for everyone. Thankfully we started in shallow enough water for the course race that I could get a good jump for my start which is crucial for that race because the further back you are in the pack on the ﬁrst buoy turn the more chaos you have to deal with which typically allows the front runners to open a gap quickly.
Did you use a different board for the downwinder then the course race?
No, I chose to only bring my 14’x23” Flatwater Race Pro because the board was designed to be verasatile and perform well in conditions ranging from flatwater, surf, upwind, sidewind, and light downwind conditions. I will admit that I honestly kinda of down played the importance of having both my flatwater and downwinder with me in Hood. Although in hindsight I wish I would have brought both boards I still believe I need more downwind time on the river to crack top 5 in the double downwinders so I’m not to disappointed with my decision to travel so light but I did learn a lesson. I definitely will bring both boards when I come earlier for next years event. I’m really happy with how versatile the Flatwater Race Pro is in so many different conditions, I’m looking forward to racing on this board again in SF at the Battle of the Bay in some rough San Francisco Bay water, and in the waves at Doheny for PPG.
With an estimated 1 million people ﬂooding into hood river to watch the Solar Eclipse on Monday after the race, there must have been quite the crowd. Was Hood River and the Event Site overly packed this past weekend because of this rare occasion?
No, I think Hood River was just North enough of the “totality zone” that it seemed to avoid any serous crowds but the event site was deﬁnitely very lively on both days especially Sunday for the course race. Hood River and the GPC is easily one of my favorite events I compete in each year, and I think many would say the same thing this year with saw over 300 people ﬂying into to downwind on the river. I not sure who I heard it from, but someone made the analogy that Hood River is the freshwater version of Maui for waterman and water woman. So I think the crowd at the event site was mainly paddlers there for the racing but it was kind of hard to tell because the eclipse sunglasses didn’t come out until Monday, haha.
Aloha, Josh Riccio
Photos: Dave Fusilli & Emily Davis
Learn more about the 2018 F-One Race Pro!