The Gorge is a unique venue for windsurfing. For one, you’re sailing on a huge river with the wind blowing against the flow meaning you can spend your whole day carving off downwind and being gently taken back to where you started from. Depending on the wind and the local dam release, you can get logo high, rolling swell (perfect for jumping) along with flat water at the edges for some freestyle/carving action! You can also drive to the coast for a dose of wave riding.
How to get there
From the UK you fly to San Francisco or Seattle with United then onto Portland. With American Airlines they fly you to Dallas or Chicago and then onto Portland. Or try North West Airlines who go to Minneapolis and then Portland. Hood River is a 40 minute drive from the airport. You can also fly direct from Amsterdam to Portland.
You do need transport. Hire a car or splash out and get a van.
If you do want a van go to Enterprise Van Hire although this is a bit pricey.
How The Wind Works
It is a very localized, thermal wind based on hot desert land and a cold Pacific sea. It comes up the river from the coast (starting around Stevenson) and stops as the river meets the desert. The river runs the other way back to the sea giving perfect cross-shore conditions on a gentle, upwind conveyor belt!
Sometimes it blows the other way (east) especially in the winter, as the desert is so cold and the Pacific sea is still relatively warm. It can really blow hard in the winter because of this, but boy is it cold!
Watch out for really hot days in the summer where it is too hot everywhere and there is not enough pressure difference to create the thermal wind. However, the windiest month still tends to be August with the average sail size around a 4.5m. On a bad day (according to the locals) you will still be planing on a 6m. It’s just that the locals don’t buy that big!
It varies with the wind strength and how fast the river is flowing. (Note that the river flow is dependant on the water released from the local dam.) However, you always get very flat spots at the edges, and then in the middle rolling swell and chop which can be a killer on the knees for the first few days. Some sailing spots, like The Wall and Doug’s Beach, are specifically at the narrow parts of the river which means more flow and more swell. They can be pretty intimidating but provide excellent jumping ramps and some backside wave riding. And of course you get to practice everything on both tacks during one session.
Intro to sailing spots
There are many spots along both sides of the river but most windsurfers sail from the following places. If you find that they are overcrowded then there are some secret spots which, in theory, only the locals know about. But please remember, the mains spots are busy because they are the best in terms of clean wind and swell.
Info relevant to all sailing spots
Best wind direction: Westerly, blowing from left to right when stood looking out to the river from Hood River Town.
Worst wind direction: A light easterly wind going the other way (with the flow).
Tide: The River is a quick jim and runs between 4-8 knots depending on the width of the bank.
What’s on the bottom?: The river goes deep fairly quickly off the shoreline and it’s sand, pebbles or slippy rocks at the water’s edge.
Any hazards: Bloody great big barges that stop for no one. Stay out of their way. Also watch out for huge logs that occasionally drift down the river.
Other water users: Kitesurfers and the odd shore-side fisherman.
Suitability/levels: All levels from beginner to winner.
Wipeout factor: If you break something, you will gently drift downstream, but it’s not too strong to prevent you from swimming in (and remember you will be taken back UPWIND). Plus there are always sailors out on the water who seem to enjoy rescuing hapless foreigners.
For a real laugh, hang out at the Hood River Event site and watch the odd kitesurfer get his kite entangled in the huge drawbridge that links Oregon with Washington.