Bernd Roediger is a standup paddler raised by the wind.
The Maui-bred waterman was groomed in the world’s finest trades, mentored by legends in the arts of windsurfing, downwind SUP, surfing and foiling on his island’s fabled North Shore. He claimed victory in both runs of the infamous Double Downwinder at last year’s Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge, and this weekend will be competing at the Gorge again to defend his title. We caught up with Bernd during his race prep for an inside look at what goes into championing Hood River’s prize downwind SUP race. –MM
At home in Maui, what kinds of paddling do you focus on most?
I focus primarily on paddling that involves wind. I come from a windsurfing background and riding the dividing line between wind and sea is something I’ll always love. Downwind paddling embodies a lot of the same qualities as windsurfing. It feels holistic, like a medium translating the forces of two worlds—one lofty, one aquatic.
You’re an accomplished surfer as well. How does surfing help you prepare for downwinding at the Gorge?
Being a longboarder definitely helps with downwinding. Practicing the cross-step, or the walk from nose to tail, back to nose again, has been a useful tool on the Columbia River. The swells on that particular run are close-period and steep. Oftentimes the fastest line is diagonal, which means constantly redirecting side-to-side, and for that you need a means of turning that big ole 14-foot board on a dime. The longboarding background helps.
How does downwind foiling help prepare you for downwind SUP races?
Thanks to foiling we are all seeing the ocean in a different way. Suddenly an entire world of unseen energy is made tangible. The invisible movements of water are felt in the wing. With foiling we’re also running faster times than any stock board could, and the miles just fly by. Still, the older class of racing is special to me. You have to learn to appreciate a 14-foot board for what it is and a foil for what it is.
How is downwinding on the Columbia River different from the Maliko or other ocean runs?
Having a river flowing against the direction of the wind—the direction you are trying to go—adds some challenges but also many advantages. The bumps develop with more shape and it really feels so much like surfing when you’re running the Columbia. Sometimes I forget I’m actually on a river.
You have an analogy about downwinding that involves “building a sentence” with your line. Care to divulge?
This is top-secret! Kidding…
It involves building ‘glide’ on a downwinder. Starting with no speed, no swell pushing you, into the wind, you have one word in your sentence: ‘Paddle.’ When you use this word you begin to get some movement behind you. You might even latch onto a swell. At that point you can make a short statement, ‘I am surfing.’ From there, you begin to look around and say ‘Oh look over there, that’s a nice little swell! I oughta steer in that direction to catch it. But whoa, another swell is rising to my left! Once I link my second glide, I can ferry back over and connect to it for a third.’ At that point you’re linking and gliding, building a wonderful ‘sentence.’ The idea is to never stall, never pause or rest, no periods. Just one constant run-on paragraph until the end. It’s a perfect analogy for a windbag like myself.
What kind of training do you do to prepare for the Gorge race?
I swear off McDonalds for a few weeks and try to paddle as much as I can! I also have some really great friends who inspire me to run, bike, hike and swim. Working out with even one other person makes the whole experience more enjoyable. I also blend in some yoga to stay balanced and injury-free. I’ve had a lot of back issues in the past, but now that I’m dedicating more time to recovery and preventative stretching, I don’t suffer from it nearly as much!
What kind of board and fin will you be riding at this year’s race?
Why do you go with the Sonic? Do you have a backup choice?
The Sonic is a fin tailor-made for the things I like to do—the fun things! Downwinding, surfing and going fast! The TIGER is an excellent fin too, and I always keep it in the bag in case the wind is dead flat on the day of the event.
What’s the first thing you’re going to do to celebrate if you win this weekend?
Probably pass out because it’s looking like its going to be an intense year. After that, I’ll nurse myself back to health with terrible food and worse movies. Ha!