Big Winds JET Rider Fiona Wylde Wins the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge

Fiona Wylde is the 2013 Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge overall Elite Water Woman. Here is the race recap from her perspective.

“At the start of this past weekend I had absolutely no idea how I was going to end up. The top elite women of stand up paddling were coming into town for the 2013 Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge presented by O’Neill. The field was stacked including SUP legends like Jenny Kalmbach, Candice Appleby, Andrea Moller, Mariko Strickland Lum, Karen Wrenn and Nikki Gregg, just to name a few. I have been competing in a lot of races this year, and doing pretty well, but I had not yet raced against the top Elite of the sport. The downwinder was scheduled to run on Saturday with the course race and relay race on Sunday.


“When they called ten minutes to the start of the downwind race, a wave of nervousness flooded me. I tried to put that behind me and just stick to my game plan. I didn’t have anything to loose in this race, so my goal was to paddle my best and catch the best glides I could on the eight mile stretch of river from Viento State Park to Hood River. As soon as the air horn blew, I pushed off the rock I was standing on, jumped straight to my feet and began a high cadence sprint stroke. I was out in front leading the elite women to the first mark. The first mark was about a mile downwind and on the far side of the river. About twenty yards before the mark, Andrea Moller pulled ahead and was first to round. Myself, Jenny Kalmbach and Candice Appleby were neck and neck, jockeying for second.


“Once I rounded the mark, I caught a lucky bump and created a significant gap between Candice and Jenny. I held this gap until about the half way mark, when Mariko Strickland and Candice caught up to me. Once again there were three of us gunning for second place. We were trading positions for about five minutes when I caught the best swell of my life! I flew ahead and put a 200 yard gap on Candice and Mariko. After that, I continued to catch big glides and increase the gap between myself and third place. Once I knew I had a secure gap on third, I was focusing on Andrea who was still about 150 yards ahead of me. I put my head down and paddled with everything I had left. I closed the gap by a significant amount, but I was still a bit behind her. About a quarter of a mile before the finish, I could see the big yellow Naish buoy marking the entrance to the finish line. As I drew closer, I could hear people cheering for me. Coming into the finish line I had the biggest smile on my face I have ever worn. When I ran up the beach, I was in awe of the fact that I placed second in an Elite Women’s race behind Andrea Moller and ahead of third place finisher Candice Appleby.


My coach Steve Gates, my mom, and my aunt were there open armed to greet me at the finish. I was so excited where I finished, but more than that I was so stoked about how excellent the conditions were and the fact that I had the best downwind run I have had yet, and I beat all my training times.


“The following morning was the course race. This was not your ideal course race conditions. There was not a glassy patch of water anywhere on the river. It was blowing twenty and the course was set with up wind and downwind sections. I had to tell myself, “you train in wind, just pretend this is a training session on steroids.” As soon as the air horn blew, I jumped straight to my feet and once again was leading the pack to the first mark. I rounded the mark first, then choked up on my paddle and prepared for the long upwind leg. Jenny Kalmbach was hammering and passed me half way up the first leg. At the upwind buoy, Candice and I were neck and neck for second. On the downwind leg of the first lap, I pulled ahead of Candice and completed the first lap in second. The course was a five lap course, each lap being about a mile long. By lap 3 I was still in second, but Candice caught up to me and passed me on the second upwind leg. All I was doing for the last two laps was holding my position. I finished the race in third place behind second place Jenny Kalmbach and course race winner Candice Appleby! I am extremely overjoyed to have done well in both the downwind race and the course race.


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“After finishing third in the elite women’s course race and second in the downwind race, I knew I was in the running for the overall water woman award. The overall water women award is awarded to the woman with the fastest combined time from the course race and the downwind race. My dad timed the difference between Candide and I after she finished her race and when I finished. We were the two that were in the running for the award. My dad timed it so I lost the award by two seconds. Well, when they were awarding the Water Woman award, Steve Gates announced the difference was 14 seconds! I thought Candice had it hands down! Then he announced my name and I have never been so surprised, excited, stoked, and honored in my life before!! I am very happy to announce that I am the 2013 Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge overall Elite Water Woman!!


“This past weekend has been a complete honor and an amazing experience. I really enjoyed competing at an elite race right here in Hood River, my home town, and having my team mates here competing along side me. I am already looking forward to next year, but for right now I am preparing for the O’Neill Fall Classic in Lake Tahoe, where I will be paddling 22 miles across the lake.”



2013 Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge from Fiona Wylde on Vimeo.