Windsurfing, surfing, Maui, The Gorge, and random rants.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pistol River Wave Bash - Day One

On the first day of the competition I woke up feeling a touch anxious. Not only was this my first wave sailing event, but I was an Oregon coast wave rookie. I've windsurfed many waves in Maui (mostly Kanaha), so I figured or hoped I wouldn't be a total kook. But the whole cold water, on shore wind combined with shore break waves was an altogether new experience to me. In reality I had no idea what to expect. And my very first sailing in these conditions was going to pretty much be during my first heat. Yikes!
Editors note - I know it's taking forever to publish these stories. Blame it on 16 consecutive windy days here in the Gorge. Not good for productivity... but very good for fun!

I should also mention that when I originally signed on I was going to be in the "grand master" division, meaning 50+. In that scenario I figured that there would be something like four of us oldsters competing and we'd have a few heats among us friends and even if I finished last I'd still be in fourth place - not so bad! However to expedite the event, the grand master and master divisions were consolidated, with the age limit now set to 40. Well, one shouldn't be concerned with exact results in these events (I told myself) and the mere fact that my division was suddenly way more competitive was a good thing. Right? But realizing that I was now up against much younger and yet way more experienced dudes - and I was most likely the only competitor who had never touched the Oregon ocean - didn't help my mental state.

After a Gold Beach camp ground style breakfast (eggs, pancakes, lots of syrup) we headed south for PR.  Like almost every other part of the Oregon coast, this drive offers spectacular scenery.  Just south of Gold Beach, Cape Sebastian rises almost 700 ft straight up from the ocean.  From the overlooking parking lot you get a fantastic view of the south coast, including all of Pistol River. What a great spot to check out the conditions!

In this shot (click to enlarge) you can just see the cars parked on the highway in the distance, and "the rock" (small rock on the beach past all the really big rocks in the water) where the event took place.  PR is about 10 minutes total drive from Gold Beach and if you don't like car camping, Gold Beach has plenty of restaurants and motel options.  One thing I noticed was that the wind, which seemed quite light at breakfast, picked up significantly south of the Cape.  It's as if the Cape itself provides a venturi which focuses the wind.  At any rate, it was looking like a windy day for sure.  And arriving at the parking area, it was great to see so many people we knew.

There was a lot of rigging already going on.  And this was one of the challenges to competing here.  I had my usual gorge sails - North Ice 4.0 and 4.5, along with a newer 5.3 Goya Eclipse (same sail I used in Maui).  Now I know that PR can be very windy, but unlike the Gorge, which has strong current pushing you up wind, PR has a strong current taking you down to "boss land" - where you don't want to go .  Plus there's a nasty shore break you don't want to be slogging over.  So what to rig?  Since it seemed like a typical windy PR day was shaping up, I rigged both a 4.0 & a 4.5.

Then we all gathered for the skipper meeting up in the dunes.  Matt Pritchard explained the rules, which to me sounded more or less like this - "go there, and if something gets in your way, turn" - and the heats were then posted.  We headed to the beach and the competition quickly got underway.  The goal for the day was to run all the heats for all the divisions - almost 40 heats!  This would be a double elimination event, so all losers would get a second chance.  However if the weather was to take a sudden dive, today's results would be final.  Thus the push to finish all the single emimination heats on the first day.

Heats were 8 minutes long plus 2 minute transitions.  The top three wave rides counted, plus the top two jumps, and an overall impression.  I didn't realize it then, but waves were counted 3x, jumps 2x, and overall 1x.  So obviously one or two great wave rides could be a huge factor in the score.  A few of us were mistakenly thinking for most of the day that these were all weighted equal - maybe I should have paid closer attention to Matt.  Anyway I could see there would be many rounds before my heat came up, so I had time to get my feet wet. Julia, who by the way could not compete due to a sprained MCL she suffered just a few days earlier (major bummer!), took some shots of the early action, including my warm up.

I warmed up on my 4.5 and had a quick but fun session.  I had to admit after the warm up I was feeling confident I could at least catch a decent wave or two here.  Meanwhile the women and junior divisions ran and, as you can see from the last few photos above, Francisco Goya had just arrived on the scene and was on the water.  It was great seeing Francisco's smiling face here (along with his lovely wife and kids).  Plus Kevin Pritchard and Francisco were eventually to go head to head for some great competitive wave sailing.

The master heats now started and I had a chance to watch our good friend Royn Bartholdi in action.  Royn, as I mentioned in an earlier post, organized the Freestyle Frenzy at the Hatch a few years back.  This was a huge effort on Royn's part and was a super well run event.  Royn has also helped many a beginner free style sailor learn a few tricks - he was instrumental in my learning heli-tacks and, later on, forwards.  He also provided a few tips on sailing Pistol as he had been here several days prior to the event.  Given all that I was curious to see how Royn would do in actual competition here - and during the warm ups he was getting some great rides.  So Royn heads out on his first reach of the heat and on one of the bigger waves throws a huge forward loop. Really huge! So big that he over rotated a bit and didn't quite land it.  Now his rig is away from him and immediately another big wave drops on top of him and his rig.  This forces Royn into a long swim to retrieve his gear when another big wave catches him.  At this point the current has taken him far downwind and his gear is practically on the beach.  Eventually he gets to it and get out past the break, but it's a long reach out and, he's almost back to the judging area when.. his heat ends.  Needless to say Royn didn't advance.  In retrospect a some of us Gorge dudes put too much effort into throwing huge aerials when we should have gone for sure bet wave rides. But hey, looping is fun!  I'm also thinking that it's easy to get screwed by the shore break and the strong current here, considering how short the heats are. One big swim and you're done!

Now I'm getting psyched for my quicky arriving heat.  I got my 4.5 rigged, and I go for the secret weapon.  I might have mentioned that I really hate cold water, and it turns out that the Oregon ocean, and Pistol River in particular, is really cold! That is rarely warmer than 50... especially when it's windy, which is exactly when we would normally be there.  So a few weeks earlier I got an email from a company called Thermo-pad regarding a special wet suit heating pad they wanted me to test.  They subsequently sent me their "scuba special" heating pads to try out.  This allows you to put a heating pad inside your wet suit that stays heated to 130 F for at least one hour (or longer depending how cold the water is).  It's chemically activated by flexing a tiny metal plate in the pad and can be reactivated indefinitely.  It's hard to describe exactly how this works, so check out this video.  But trust me, it works like a champ and is a great thing to have in cold water.

So I activate my thermo pad to a toasty 130 and this goes inside my wet suit. I also drink a red bull.  Now I'm practically sweating, I've got my 4.5 rigged and ready on the beach, the wind is coming on strong and I'm ready, like really really ready to go! Woo-hoo!!  And that's when they announce that the event is taking a break.  A long break.  They decided to move the judging stands from the dunes down to the beach (by the rock).  At the same time they're getting lunch for all the judges. So there I was, all dressed up and no where to go.  I could have gone for some more warm up sailing, but I hadn't had lunch myself and was pretty hungry. So I took out the thermo pad (which I could not re-activate on the beach) and sat down to chill.  Meanwhile there was a lot more action on the water while the wind and waves kept on building.

Finally the judge's stand has been moved and everyone is ready again.  Well, except me.  I spent the last hour sitting there getting more anxious and a bit cold as the wind picked up. At the last second I decided to run back to the dunes and grab my 4.0.  And this was going on my "magic Maui" quad fin board - a custom board shape which is perfect for riding big Maui style waves.  Now in retrospect, considering the strong current and on shore wind aspect of PR, I might have been better off with my wave one Goya (a faster planing on shore free-wave board).  But that's what I had so that's what I rode.    I quickly rigged this up and got to the start of my heat.

The flag went up, the heat was on, and out I went. Only I wasn't really going.  More like slogging.  Oops!  The wind wasn't as strong as I thought or the current was a lot stronger.  Either way I wasn't moving so quick.  The first two guys in my heat to get going, Jeff McVannel and MacRae Wylde, quickly and easily made it out over the waves and were soon on them.  But I was still in slog-ville when it seemed like a larger set showed up.  I barely made it over the first wave but didn't quite get over the last and of course largest one.  Once down in the cold water (did I mention I hate cold water) I got rinsed a few times and I did some swimming to get my gear.  Finally I popped the sail up and managed to get going and once out beyond the break was decently powered up.  But I was also way downwind.  So I took a really long reach out and jibed and checked my watch.  6 minutes had already elapsed and I was way outside. Dooh!! I headed up wind as best I could and caught a decent wave coming in, but I could only manage a few wimpy up the line turns - I was still trying to get close to the judges - when the horn sounded and the heat and my first day was history.  The pictures below show some of this "action".  I didn't need to check the results to know I wasn't going anywhere.  The biggest bummer was I didn't get a chance to try a forward, one of the few wave tricks I can manage.  I wasn't powered enough going over the waves to do anything but hope to make it out. So I vowed to do two things in my next (losers bracket) heat: first - I would not rig too small and second - I would throw a forward on my first chance, no matter what!  But that would all have to wait for another day.

Meanwhile the heats moved on.  The junior division was very competitive, with Bernd Rodenger and Zane Schwiter eventually going head to head (Zane winning a close final heat).  In the womans division, Ingrid won every heat (no surprise) and threw down some moves and wave rides that would have won heats against the boys.  And the other competitors (Chris, Fiona, and Tanya) performed very well in challenging conditions.  In the amateur bracket, Lars Bergstrand showed that experience counts as he won all of his heats.  And as for the Pros - all I can say is "what a show"!  While it might seem pre-ordained that the two most experienced wave competitors, Francisco and Kevin, both having won many events during their illustrious careers, would end up in the finals, it was by no means assured.  The competition was fierce as almost all the top sailors from the Gorge made it down for this event, along with a few Maui sailors.  Eventually Kevin and Francisco did end up in the final heat of the day, and Kevin won a very close match by throwing some bigger airs (including some huge one footed backs). Of course we all expected that the loser bracket would most likely bring these two guys head to head again, so that was definately something to look forward to. And I had something to prove - that I could actually sail here!  With that the first day of competition closed.

Below are some highlights from the first day of competition. Cheers!

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