Dan Gavere took a page out of Starboard teammate Connor Baxter’s playbook to start Saturday morning’s Downriver race at the fourth annual Whitewater SUP Championship.
Breaking out of a mass start above the wave feature in the Glenwood Springs, Colo. Whitewater Park, Gavere choked up on his paddle and fired away furious rapid-fire strokes to break ahead of the men’s field.
“It’s called the choke stroke, (Baxter) didn’t invent it, he just popularized it,” Gavere said. “It allows you to use a longer paddle and still accelerate—like putting it in first gear, less resistance to get up to speed.”
Once up to speed, Gavere went on to affirm his status as the whitewater SUP alpha dog, winning the event for the fourth straight year. He held onto a hearty lead down a mellow 3.5-mile course on the Colorado River punctuated a final Class II/III wave train prior to the finish.
“His start was perfect,” Mike Tavares said of Gavere, who trailed in a contentious pack with event organizer Charlie MacArthur and Brent Redden. “We were flip-flopping the whole way, I tried to cut inside of Charlie at South Canyon, we were neck and neck, then he got in front of me by a board length at the finish.”
For the 30 competitors across three divisions (mens, womens, kids) plugging away downriver, it was the headwind, coupled with low river flows (just shy of 3,000 cfs) and hot, dry conditions that presented more challenges than any rocks or river features.
“I had a bloody nose I paddled so hard and my throat was on fire,” said Nikki Gregg, who won the women’s division. “The wind … was gnar.”
Jenny MacArthur followed in second place and Haley Mills took third, on a day where the advantage went to paddlers like Gregg, Gavere and much of the men’s lead pack who opted for longer composite race boards for the flats over inflatables better suited for rocky, technical conditions.
The afternoon was highlighted by a SUP-cross race back at the whitewater park that played host to the lively, Pabst Blue Ribbon-sponsored Rocky Mountain Surf festival. Competitors were set up in seeded brackets of four to five paddlers (according to their downriver finishes) for a short, sprint course around an upstream buoy, and then down through the main, river-right wave and around another buoy set up in the eddy.
“It’s more fun and I think a better test of your overall paddling abilities,” said Mills, who advanced through race rounds to finish just behind Jenny MacArthur.
The crux move presented the riverside spectators with exactly what the came for: carnage. The board jostling and maneuvering at the crux turn below the wave provided some exciting moments, especially in the men’s final, where Tavares (pictured above, at right) edged out Gavere on the turn, only to have Gavere chase him down to regain the lead in a near photo finish. — Dave Shively
The weekend’s events concluded with a SUP-surf event modified for the low-water conditions at the wave feature. Stay tuned for full results.