Equipment Equality: The Gorge Announces “up to 14 ft” for Women
One of the most iconic events (and funnest weekends) on the calendar, the Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge, has taken the initiative to give women the same opportunities as men by embracing the “up to 14 ft” board class.
Beginning with the 2018 edition on August 18/19, both men and women will be gliding down the famous Columbia River Gorge on race boards up to 14 feet in length–an announcement that several leading athletes have applauded.
This positive move follows the lead of fellow major the Carolina Cup, which recently changed the women’s Elite Graveyard Race from 12’6 up to 14 in line with the men, and it reinforces Hood River’s position as one of the most important stops of the season.
The Gorge has long offered equal prize money between the sexes, so this week’s decision is another great step forward not only for the event but the wider sport. It’s also another nail in the coffin of the age old “board class debate” that may finally (finally…) be coming to an end.
While not everybody will ever agree on things like board length (quite a few top-ranked women voted strongly against the move, though the majority have supported it), it’s been clear that we needed an answer – any answer – to help resolve this bizarre little saga that’s ebbed and flowed through the sport for the better part of a decade and clouded the proverbial waters for events, athletes, manufacturers and virtually everybody else in the SUP community.
Because without any authoritative governing body, and with the two potential Olympic federations – the International Canoe Federation (ICF) and the International Surfing Association (ISA) – stuck in a legal quagmire behind closed doors in Switzerland – it’s been up to the independent events and athletes themselves to help lead the sport forward.
So my hat goes off to the Gorge Paddle Challenge for stepping up and making a call that, while it won’t please everybody, was hugely necessary one way or another.
We’re more excited than ever to return to Hood River for what is one of the most special events on the calendar, which this year forms a core part of The Paddle League–a new name for the SUP Racer World Rankings and something you’ll no doubt be hearing a lot more about in the coming weeks.
Footnote: After the Gorge made their decision last week, the ISA reacted by revealing they too would embrace the “up to 14ft” board class for both men and women, seemingly putting the final nail in the coffin of this seemingly never-ending saga.
However, the “Worlds” in Brazil later this year will still be 12’6, with the ISA only introducing 14 footers (for both women and men) from 2019 onwards. That’s not the fastest decision, but it’s still a positive step forward. Or at least it will be eventually.
The ISA has been heavily distracted by their political arm-wrestle with canoeing, and they’ve also got a hundred national federations to help manage and juggle at the same time (when the ISA quizzed their national members on board sizes, the reaction was anything but unanimous). So while they’re not exactly the most proactive organisation in the world of SUP, it’s great to see the ISA machine finally be able to reach a decision that I’m sure will propel the sport they help represent forward.
The humble 12’6 certainly isn’t dead though; some key markets such as Japan still use it almost exclusively, while certain surf races such as the PPGs will probably keep 12’6 for women at least for now (conditions at that event is unique compared to the other majors). The 12’6 is also a great junior board (14′ is just too long for most pocket-sized paddlers), but it feels like we may finally have a broad consensus on the path forward. And that can only be a good thing for the sport.