GoPro Mountain Games | Exclusive Gallery and Recap
All photos: Greg Panas
For one weekend every year, the GoPro Mountain Games serve as a celebration for the entire spectrum of mountain sports. From river paddlers to downhill mountain bikers, adventure athletes of all pedigrees and progenies flock for the annual pilgrimage in Vail, Colorado.
This year, standup paddleboarders got to face off in three unique competitions spread out over two days. For the whitewater SUP contingent, the Games represent more than just another contest; they represent how far river SUP has come. The sub-sport--in its infant stages only a few years ago--is now gaining momentum as quickly as it’s gaining composure.
“There's so much less carnage these days than there was back when we first started these kinds of races,” elite river paddler and victor of both last weekend’s Downriver and SUP Cross events, Spencer Lacy says. “The courses are harder and we're doing the downriver races way faster now.”
The action kicked off Saturday with the always exciting Downriver SUP Sprint. While morning conditions saw moderate river flow at a reasonable 900 cubic feet per second (cfs), warm afternoon temperatures increased snowmelt and turned the Vail Whitewater Park into a raging river. The increased water flow gave an edge to the experienced river paddlers in the field--on the men’s side, namely whitewater pioneers Lacy and Mike Tavares.
Those two are the undisputed kings of river paddling and have a friendly rivalry to boot. While last year it was Tavares who came out on top in the SUP Sprint, this year the roles reversed and Spencer Lacy claimed victory by a mere three seconds over his rival. Meanwhile, Japanese river specialist Masayuki Takahata was only 10 seconds off the pace en route to a third-place finish with a time just over 18 minutes.
“So far this season it's been Mike (Tavares) and I just duking it out,” Lacy said. “We have the same fitness, the same equipment, the same whitewater skills--depending on the day it could be either of us.”
Later that day, a brand new SUP event debuted called the SUP Skills Invitational. A hybrid of the Downriver Sprint and SUP Cross events, paddlers ran the SUP Cross course individually and were required to complete several difficult maneuvers against the clock. While all competitors showcased impressive board handling skills (see SUP Paul Clark’s video, below), Tavares got the best of Lacy and the rest of the field to become the inaugural champion of the event.
GoPro Mountain Games -- SUP Skills Invitational Highlights
Video: SUP Paul Clark
On Sunday came the rough-and-tumble SUP Cross event, where five paddlers charged downriver in a 200-meter mad-dash to the finish. Incorporate the high river flow, ample obstacles and the narrowness of the course, and this easily became one of the most technical SUP contests of the year.
Challenging conditions led to plenty of bumping and banging, but this crowd-pleasing event once again came down to a battle between the two river titans-Tavares and Lacy-with Lacy gaining the edge to come out on top. This was no doubt the cherry on top of a career weekend for Lacy, who won two of the three SUP contests at the prestigious event.
“The Mountain Games were so fun,” said Lacy. “I decided to take it pretty seriously this year and it worked out, so I'm super excited. That's the best I've ever done in a weekend.”
As for the women’s division, it was a battle all weekend between hard-charging river women Rebecca Giddens and Camille Swan. Giddens took the Downriver SUP Sprint and Swan followed up the next day with a win at SUP Cross. Meanwhile, last year’s winner Natali Zollinger claimed the inaugural SUP Skills Invitational on Saturday.
Other notable athletes at the games included SUP surfing stars Chuck Patterson and Izzi Gomez. While they both posted commendable results-17th and 6th, respectively-in the Downriver SUP Sprint, they were no match for the river specialists.
With the 2016 GoPro Mountain Games officially in the books, we can say it’s success was as raging as its river at 1,500 cfs. Next stop: FIBark. -- Jack Haworth
Complete results from the Downriver SUP Sprint contest.
Full recap from the SUP Cross event.
Review all three river events at GoPro Mountain Games with the river’s finest, Mike Tavares.