The 2001 Subaru Gorge Games opened with a bang on July 14 (Bastille Day) when Hood River kitesailor Cory Roeseler chopped a stunning six minutes off his record for the Gorge Blowout, a 17-mile downwind race from Stevenson, Washington to Hood River, Or...
With the "gorge wind" gusting in excess of 30 mph right from the 11 AM start, Roeseler pushed himself and his gear to the limit and finished in under 48 minutes, for an average of over 21 mph.
Just 38 seconds behind was Marcus "Flash" Austin, one of the best freestyle kiteboarders in the world. Jim Bison came in third to give the kiters a clean sweep in the only race of its kind in the world. The first windsurfer/boardsailor across the line was again Dale Cook, fourth in a time of just over one hour. The conditions were so tough that out of a field of almost 100, only 24 sailors had managed to cross the line in under 2 hours.
Roesler has been the man to beat in the Blowout for over a decade--with seven victories in nine starts. He gives much of the credit for this record to the unique combination of equipment he has used in every race-- a pair of standard water skis and the rigid-wing 6.7 meter Kiteski that he designed with his father, a Boeing engineer. The carbon tube in the leading edge allows it to flex and spill wind in the gusts.
"The conditions were almost perfect all the way, with the wind straight down the river," he told me soon after finishing. "But my legs were turning to jelly at the end, and I was barely able to keep my balance. That's gonna be a hard record to break." While we spoke, an exhausted Jim Bison, also riding skis, hit the beach and was unable to drop his kite. He was dragged through the shallows until some spectators snagged the control lines and doused it.
The Blowout has been run every year since the early 80s, and is open to any type of stand-up or board-sailing system. Roesler made his first appearance in 1988 at the age of 18 with one of the first kites ever seen on the west coast. He is a Hood River resident and takes this race on his home waters seriously enough to put in four practice runs during the preceding week. (In 1995, Roesler set a kiteboarding speed record of 42 mph over a 100-meter course in the gorge. He reckons 50-60 mph is possible!)
2001 Subaru Gorge Games Blowout July 14, 2001
1) Cory Roeseler (kite) 47:51
2) Flash Austin (kite) 48:29
3) Jim Bison (kite) 56:55
4) Dale Cook (sail) 1:00:14
5) Bruce Peterson (sail) 1:04:58
24) Susie Richards (sail) 1:59:24
MORE ON THE BLOWOUT:
The race quickly turned into a duel between Austin and Roeseler. Austin led for the first four miles, until they reached the narrowest part of the gorge, where his Naish kite touched down and he briefly lost his board. "Cory is very efficient on this course," he told me. "His gear is perfect for the chop and the gusty winds. I was on the same tack the whole way--that's tough on the body. And my board was pounding hard," he explained. "I fell five times this year, which pretty much tells the story."
Cory agreed that the skis and kite gave him the edge in the typical Blowout conditions. "Two skis are just more stable, and much easier on the legs," he declared. The Kiteski that he developed in the late 80s with his father was inspired by hang glider design and used a flexed carbon spar in the leading edge with full battens.
The kite relies on the same basic aerodynamics as a sail-but has two significant advantages. The standard 30-meter lines put a kite in stronger and smoother winds above the turbulent zone close to the ground; the kitesailor can steer the kite across the wind in a figure-of-eight pattern to increase its apparent wind. He can literally "tack" his kite downwind while running a straight course on the board. This is what gives kites the edge in the Blowout.