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

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Finally - The PRWB Finals

The plan was to finish the final heats on Saturday and successfully wrap up the PRWB, leaving Sunday for the Epic sessions/shadow box jump off contest. Atilla had won the consolation bracket to earn a re-match with Gorge sailor (and talented metal sculptor) MacRae Wylde in the masters division. The amateur division pitted Allemand Emanuele vs another Gorge favorite and past PWRB organizer Lars Bergstrom. And the experts still had to decide who would face Kevin Pritchard to take the top prize - Kai and Francisco would battle that out. Meaning only five or six heats needed to be completed to finish the contest.

So would we get yet another day of wind - something like the eighth in a row -after a spring that featured months of rain and foul conditions. Might it be asking too much to keep the awesome weather streak alive and finish the PWRB in style? Well it wasn't looking good. Actually the weather was beautiful - totally clear skies and a bright sun. But it seemed the wind had decided to take a break. And the NOAA forecast was only calling for 10-15 kts for Gold Beach both Saturday and Sunday.

But apparently Pistol River does not pay much attention to weather forecast. It prefers to do it's own thing, and considering the full strength mid-summer sunshine that usually means a decent amount of wind is possible. So we all dutifully took the scenic drive down the coast, and sure enough, as we rounded the Cape, it was... well pretty calm actually. Not dead calm, but 10-15 seemed about right.

But as least we had a gorgeous beach to walk along, and Julia and I took advantage of that to check out the giant sea stacks just up the strand. Having grown up on the east coast, it's easy to see the huge difference between these opposite coasts. OK, the west coast, most especially the Oregon waters, can be a bit nippy. But the up side of that are beaches that have been spared the wrath of over development and have changed little since first euro explorers set foot hundreds of years ago. How many beaches on the east coast have zero houses built on the beach side of the road and only a few man made structures visible in any direction?  And the beaches are still totally natural - Oregon doesn't allow beaches to be marred with rip-rap or other artificial barriers that developers would otherwise throw on the beach to protect houses that should not have been built in the first place.  That and the fury of the winter storms (100 MPH winds are common) keep houses at a respectable distance from the ocean.

And then there's the geography.  Here the pacific ocean plate is gradually being ground under by the drifting north american continent.  So over a few million years or so, any sea mounts or other uneven terrain lying on the bottom of the ocean have been scraped up and squashed onto and into the Oregon coast.  Thus the spectacular sea stacks and coastal mountains that inhabit the beaches of Oregon. The coastal terrain is like a sculpture that has been in progress for ten million years - and it isn't quite done yet.

So we had a nice walk, and on the way back Julia shared her cache of perfect sand dollars with another family also cruising the beach.  Why its Robby Naish with his lovely wife and daughter!  It was so cool to see Robby at the wave bash.  Robby was a big event sponsor and had been spotted the previous day ripping up the waves just downwind from the contest.  I found out later that Robby was wearing a 2-mil suit  while he was out.  I'm not sure how he managed the cold water with just that - but I guess never falling into the water helps a lot. [ PS - There's a video of Robby's sailing session later in this post. ]

As we got back to the contest area, we noticed the breeze had stiffened a bit.  And as we had lunch it freshened a bit more. In fact, it was starting to get a bit windy.  Francisco and a few other sailors rigged up and tested the conditions.  Pretty soon Francisco was catching some decent waves and throwing nice jumps.  Contest on!

The judges quickly gathered and decided to increase the length of the heats to ten minutes to give everyone time to catch waves in the lighter conditions.  The wind was averaging about 20, so huge jumps were probably not going to happen.  But it was enough for some decent wave rides, and that's all that really matters in a wave contest, yes?

First up was Atilla vs MacRae for the masters re-match.  And this is where some strategy came into play.  From the beach it appeared that MacRae sailed a more consistent and solid overall heat. One thing for sure is that he stayed up wind and caught more waves.  Atilla would ride a wave way down the line and into the beach, not even bothering to tack or jibe back out.  Then he walked his gear back up wind.  With the longer heats there was time to do that, and since only the top three rides counted, Atilla ended up with a higher score, setting up another rematch with MacRae for the title.

Next up was Lars Bergstrom vs Allemand Emanuele for the amateur title, and in this case Lars didn't need any special tactics.  He simply sailed a very consistent heat, caught some great waves, and brought home the bacon.  Lars didn't lose a single heat during the contest - very fitting considering that he ran the Pistol River Wave Bash for so many years back in the day. Shows that he really knows these waves.

And while all this was going on, Bernd and his dad were just upwind on their SUPs also catching some epic rides.

Now we had the Maui boys going for it - Kai Katchadourian and Franciso Goya. Kai also tried a bit of the run up the beach strategy to maximize the wave rides.  But on this day, it didn't make a big difference when competing against Francisco.  Francisco simply owned these conditions.  Kai sailed very well, but watching Francisco was like watching a maestro at work, expertly carving up each and every piece of wave for all it was worth.  The conditions were by no means epic, the wind was barely 20 kts or so, with a distinctly onshore slant.  The waves were head high at most, closing out a bit, and the rip current was going down wind as strong as ever.  Yet despite all that, Francisco made it look effortless.  He never came into the beach, always stayed up wind in a perfect position, and pretty much caught every wave that came his way.  Consistently making tacks on both reaches and riding waves both back side and back winded, and then cutting downwind at the precise moment to hit the fattest part of the lip - all this was part of his repertoire.  Needless to say Francisco won this heat, despite a very strong performance by Kai.

The wind seemed to be getting gradually lighter now, but there was still enough for a few more heats.. maybe. The Atilla vs. MacRae round III for the masters championship was on tap.  This heat went very similar to their earlier contest. In fact I was even more sure that MacRae won as he stayed way up wind - right in front of the judges - and caught numerous waves directly in front of us.  Meanwhile Atilla had taken some rides far downwind and then hiked his gear back up the beach .  But from a scoring perspective, one or two epic wave rides, in fact just a few spray flinging off the lips, could count higher then a dozen back side rides right in front of the judges.  To me the challenge of staying up wind was pretty huge, but in the end it didn't matter - by the slimmest of margins Atilla won the masters division.

So here it was - as the wind was ever so slowly fading Kevin Pritchard and Francisco readied themselves for their rematch.  Kevin had already won the first match on Thursday, so all he had to do was take this heat and the expert title would be his.  But he was at a disadvantage this day.  First the wind was light meaning he couldn't throw any of his huge and high scoring jumps.  Second, he had been spending most of the day filming and taking pictures (Kevin is an awesome photographer and videographer) while Francisco had already sailed in a heat.  Plus Francisco seemed to have these lighter conditions totally dialed.  So it wasn't a huge surprise that, as the wind gave up it's last dying gasp, Francisco was able to catch some the better rides.  In fact, Kevin was barely planing at times and there was definitely no jumping by either sailor.  But got to give Francisco his due, he managed to make these marginal conditions look really fun.

The question was now, could or should the last and final experts heat be run?  After a quick huddle Kevin and Francisco both agreed to do it on Sunday instead, in the hopes the wind would be stronger.

With that we all headed back to Gold Beach for the awards contest (all but the experts now being decided).  There was a raffle for all the contestants, with the grand prize a carbon chinook boom.  Very nice!  There was also a ton of other cool stuff, but Julia and I decided the only thing we could really use was that boom (my chinnok boom had served me well through the years, in fact was still working, but it would be so much easier to have another boom we could leave in Maui).  So we gambled and put all our eggs in one basket - that is our tickets in the boom raffle bag.

Robby Naish stood up and told us how Sam Bittner had improbably proposed to bring back and run the Pistol River Wave Bash contest and then against all odds pulled it off.  There had been no windsurfing contests on the NA continent for ten years for those keeping track.  Pretty amazing!  I wish I had a photo of that (and so does Sam) but my camera had inhaled some sand at the beach and decided this was a good time to stop working.  At that point the trophies were handed out - including a best sportsmanship to Rick Whidden for giving his rig to Royn when Royn broke his mast.

The raffle came and it seemed that everyone won something (or in some cases like Fiona Wylde four things)  and finally the grand prize drawing for the carbon boom was at hand.  The bag containing the raffle tickets was raised, in went the fingers, out came the ticket, and the big winner!  Whoot!  OK, so Julia and I have had a little run of luck with these raffles recently, as she won a Quattro board in the Butterfly Effect.  But I think I was 0 for 50 in raffles up until that point, so I'm pretty sure this is just the law of averages working out.  But anyway, sweet!

Next day we returned to the beach for the really final final. Conditions were looking a bit better right off the bat.  Francisco was already out getting warmed up.  I'm not sure how warm you can get when the water is something like 48 deg, but he was out there having fun. And he stayed out while everyone else patiently waited for the wind to come up. Watching Francisco, it seemed like he was totally on fire today, catching and shredding every wave.  The man is a true artist on the water, but more amazing is how much stoke he aways has - always a smile!

And so he stayed out while the wind and waves came up, both already a good notch stronger then the previous day.  Finally Matt and the judges decided things were looking good and the heat was on.  The funny thing was they had to call and wave Francisco in just to start the hear, and that took awhile because, well it seemed like he never wanted to come it.  Again I'm not sure how he stayed warm - unlike many local sailors who sail here all the time he had no booties, hood, gloves or for that matter a particularly thick suit.  And he's from Maui no less! I don't get it.

Also I'm not sure if Kevin warmed up at all.  He was just hanging on the beach with us, looking pretty nonchalant about  the whole deal.  He seemed more concerned about setting up his camera to make sure everything would be properly filmed.  At this point, if I was a betting man, I would have put everything on Francisco.  Francisco was out there just ripping it up, and he looked pretty awesome the previous day.  Kevin was so calm and cool - I just wasn't sure he was really psyched up for this.  But actually a calm exterior is often a key element of a true champion.  And Kevin does have a history of winning these wave events.

When the horn signaled the start of the heat, Kevin was immediately on a great wave.  He nails a wave 360,  hits a huge off the lip, on the outside throws a huge one handed one legged back loop.  Meanwhile Francisco is not quite as smooth on the waves as he was earlier.  He actually fell at the end of one ride.  And then Kevin hits a huge double forward,  He didn't land cleanly but pretty close!  And now Francisco does his own double forward, this time a very clean landing.  Both Matt and Josh Sampiero mention that double forwards are rare tricks for those guys - and we just saw two! Now Kevin and Francisco are trading big moves- one a huge push loop, the other a giant stalled forward.  These guys were really pushing themselves out there and put on a show worthy of any wave event final.  When the heat finally ended, I thought Francisco sailed awesome.  Kevin though, Kevin was simply super awesome.  Kevin pretty much landed every trick and wave maneuver clean or very close to it. In my mind there was no doubt that Kevin won the heat, and that's how it was scored.

[ Unfortunately at this point my camera was mostly dead preventing me from taking any decent shots of the final.  But no worries because the complete final heat was recorded by Ted Eady from the Inn of the Beachcomber in Gold Beach. Click here to view or hide the video below. And if you want to see Robby's video click here. ]

The awarding of the trophy was classic, with Francisco's very cute young daughter insisting on sitting on his head the whole time while he was holding his trophy. Maybe she was the real trophy?  And I have to admit being most impressed with Kevin's performance.  He is a  low key dude so you might not always notice him on the beach, but he is a really great wave sailor. I'm super glad I got the chance to watch these guys go head to head in a contest where they really show their stuff.

After the final heat, most of us took off for the long drive home.  Kevin, Francisco, and many of the top Gorge sailors participated in the Epic Session Jump Off contest (Tyson Poor landed both the highest back and straight jumps).  Meanwhile Julia and I drove off into the sunset, happy to have been part of this awesome event and already looking forward to next year's edition.

Aloha -- Jamin

PS - if all that wasn't enough below are some more articles and videos on the 2010 PRWB...

Head Judge Matt Pritchard Talks about the upcoming Pistol River event (Vimeo video)
Pistol River Wave Bash Day 1 (Vimeo video)
Pistol River Wave Bash Day 2 (Vimeo video)
Pistol River Wave Bash Day 3 (Vimeo video)
Pistol River Wave Bash Final  (Vimeo video) Pistol River Windsurfing Jump Off (Vimeo video)
Bernd Roediger reports from Pistol River: Part 1 
Bernd Roediger reports from Pistol River: Part 2 
Randy's PWRB report 
Dana's blog
Copyright © 2011 Jamin Jones, All rights reserved.