VAIL — Oh, the humanity.
It was a day of bashing, smashing and crashing on Gore Creek as the GoPro Mountain Games came to a close on Sunday with its traditional program of zaniness in assorted forms of dirigibles. Yes, it made one question the general sanity of the participants, but, then again, it really wouldn’t be the Mountain Games if it weren’t for doing the unconventional.
Team Chupacabra reigned supreme in the rain in raft cross. As was the case in stand-up paddle, the teams had to negotiate three gates on the creek as well as hitting a buoy upstream with their paddles.
And when that many boats are trying to maneuver around a small area of water, chaos ensues.
“Surprisingly, there is strategy,” Team Chupacabra’s Jordan Kurt-Mason said. “I would say a massive bit is the start, which is a lot about finesse and getting off the shore and moving downstream before anyone else gets going. Each gate has a different challenge, how to catch an eddy, enter and exit while still making the gate. Those are all important things.”
Chupacabra edged Team Birk for the crown. The latter had the distinction of having one of its members fall out of its raft in the semifinals. Team Birk got both members back in the raft and still managed to qualify for the finals.
“What is it? It’s like 50 degrees with a water temperature of 38 degrees,” Chupacabra’s Jeremiah Williams said. “Of course, we’re happy staying in the boat.”
No one stayed out of the water during the men’s final of stand-up paddle cross. In fact, as the four finalist made landfall after the race, none of the quartet knew who won.
For the record, Spencer Lacy, of Boulder, emerged from a four-board wipeout on the final gate to get the win.
“That’s how it works in paddle-board cross,” Lacy said “It’s really confusing when there’s so much carnage, especially when there are so many good paddlers out there duking it out. Some guy landed on the front of my board, so there was some carnage there and I made it out.”
Lacy was the only of the four to finish officially in the final. The three other stand-up paddlers were disqualified because they did not tap their paddles on International Bridge. Those three re-ran the Gore and Mike Tavares took second.
“I would say it’s so much fun,” Lacy said. “It’s so much fun to be involved in the development of a sport. This sport, whitewater paddling, you have people looking at you saying, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s pretty cool to have people looking at you like that. This is so much fun.”
Haley Mills, who described her residence as her truck which takes her from event to event, emerged victorious in the women’s division.
“It’s all about being smooth and having the skills to make all the eddies and the gates,” Mills said. “It was actually a good buoy turn. All the girls did it well. It was a clean race.”
This was not for the faint of heart. The number of 8-balls, kayakers whose sole job is to do anything and everything to prevent the progress of racers, seemed small at the beginning of the final heats. But Gore Creek soon swelled with 8-balls and the hits came fast.
Sophia Mulder, of New Zealand, came out on top of the women’s competition.
There are two competing theories of 8-ball. The first is to hang back and let other competitors take the hits before slipping through unmolested. Or one can try to paddle fast and let the 8-balls feed on everyone else.
“I went with what was happening,” Mulder said. “The first race, I managed to tuck in behind someone and get through. It just happened like that. This one, I ended up tussling near the front. There were six of us, so I wasn’t really far out front.”
However it happens, one is still going to get hit.
“That’s the first time I’ve worn a full-face helmet and elbow guards on Class II water,” Mulder joked.
Joe Morley, of the United Kingdom, was the survivor on the men’s side.
“I try to vary my speed, so when an 8-ball is coming at you, you can slow down a bit and that puts them off course,” he said. “I try to protect my face a little bit. It’s not the best helmet in the world. I keep my elbows high and that’s it.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.