Will Gadd goes from ice climbing to organizing Vancouver “Divide and Conquer” endurance race

Andrew Bucholtz

Will Gadd is one of the most prominent Canadians in extreme sports; he's set the world distance record for paragliding twice, won the Ice Climbing World Cup, won three X Games gold medals, claimed the Canadian National Sport-Climbing Championships title four times and was recently featured in Sportsnet Magazine's "Ten Most Dangerous Sports On Earth" issue for an ice-climbing course he's helping to build behind a waterfall. Now, he's working with Red Bull to put together a remarkable new multi-disciplinary extreme team endurance race on Vancouver's North Shore this June. The race, called "Divide and Conquer," will see teams of three compete in mountain running, mountain biking and river/ocean kayaking, travelling over 70 kilometres of extreme terrain in an event that should take between five and seven hours. Gadd said Tuesday he's thrilled to be involved with an event that brings back memories for him, especially on the kayaking front.

"These are all the sports I love," Gadd said. "I first ran that river almost an embarrassing amount of time ago. It's a great ride."

He said he's used to extreme activities, but these events will bring their own sets of challenges, especially on the cardio front.

"This one's quite a tough course," he said. "The ice climbing and the things I do, you don't generally have to wear a heart-rate monitor for them. I expect to see a great deal of suffering, a whole lot of blood and a lot of fun, not necessarily in that order."

Here's a video of what to expect from the race:

Gadd said Vancouver's North Shore is the perfect location for the June 16 race, as it has incredible terrain concentrated in a small area. The runners will climb almost 6,000 feet up Grouse Mountain, then tag their mountain-biking teammate, who will traverse a five-mile section of fireroad, take on Mount Fromme's single-track section, fly over part of the famed Baden-Powell Trail and speed down to the Capilano River. There, they'll tag their kayaking teammate, who will paddle a 10-mile course which will involve surf waves, lateral spins and cartwheel pourovers and will finish with an ocean paddle to the finish line of Vancouver's Ambleside Park. Gadd said the North Shore area is ideal for this, as all the terrain for the different sports is close together.

"It really lends itself to this," he said. "The geography of this area is really quite small. I can't think of anywhere else you can do all this stuff in such a small area."

Gadd said he figures the running portion of the race might be the toughest.

"I think the runner's got the worst job," he said. "They're climbing about 2,000 metres, or 6,000 feet. I've seen some tough mountain races, but this is going to hurt."

The mountain biking won't be easy, either, especially as it will involve some intense climbing.

"They have to gain about 1,000 feet before they start down," Gadd said. "It's not just a downhill."

He said Vancouver's reputation as a mountain-biking destination should pull in some top-quality performers for that section, which will make it great for spectators.

"You look at the geography of Vancouver, you've got one of the biggest mountain-biking scenes in the world," Gadd said. "Come out and see some of the best mountain bikers in North America. These guys really haul over terrain most of us would have trouble walking."

The final part of the kayaking course should make for a spectacular finish, as the entrance into the ocean will allow participants to focus on raw speed.

"It's going to be an anaerobic death paddle out of the river," Gadd said.

Overall, Gadd said it should be a remarkable event to participate in or watch, both for those new to the world of extreme sports and those like himself who have been doing extreme events for decades.

"I think this is going to be one of the coolest mountain events I've ever seen."

For more information on Divide and Conquer, check out the site here.